Does retinol expire? Does retinol go bad? How long does retinol last once opened?

Does Anti-Ageing Retinol Expire? Does Retinol Go Bad?

In Anti-Ageing & Protective Skincare by Cheryl Woodman MChem

Does retinol expire? Heck yes it does. If you’re using anti-ageing retinol you need to be aware retinol is an anti-ageing skincare active which goes bad quickly. We’re talking months, sometimes even days.

How you store retinol matters.

How you use your retinol matters.

The price of your retinol matters – psst – published science papers tell us budget retinol like the ones you can get from The Ordinary can actually resist going bad and therefore stay effective for longer. Pretty amazing eh. I’m sharing more on this soon.

Does retinol expire? Does retinol go bad? How long does retinol last once opened?

Does Retinol Expire?

Retinol is a skincare active to love because;

Topical retinoids are effective in the treatment of acne, psoriasis, hyperpigmentation, photoaged or intrinsically aged skin.J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021 Jul;20(7):2350-2358

Psstretinol is a member of the retinoid family

Retinoids are hero skincare actives.

They can help;

  • brighten and even your skin tone
  • prevent sun spots and age spots
  • smooth skin
  • reverse wrinkles (yes really)
  • and even help you get rid of acne

Psst – retinoids are fantastic for acne-prone skin types who want to get set with an effective anti-ageing skincare routine.

But the big challenge with retinol is it goes off quickly. Blink and you miss it – almost 🙂

Retinol is sensitive to light and heat.

It’s like an apple – when you cut it open it goes brown quick. That browning is oxidation and it means precious anti-ageing antioxidants have expired and gone bad.

Now unlike an apple, you’re not going to see your retinol serum go brown. That’s because retinol is effective in such a small dose – we’re talking about effective anti-ageing benefits from just a 0.01% concentration (I explain which concentration is best for you inside AgeLock). This means when retinol expires, there’s not enough expired brown retinol hanging around to turn your serum brown.

This is why it’s super important to understand how long retinol lasts once opened.

How Long Does Retinol Last Once Opened?

This will shock you to find out. Many well-known retinol serums and creams contain just 20% of the stated retinol concentration after 6 months of use.

Crazy right.

Let’s get stuck into this proven and published science. A paper published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology in 2021 tested 12 retinol serums and creams to see how quickly does retinol expire?

These amazing researchers tested anti-ageing retinol products from big brands like;

And they found that;

The decline in retinoid contents after 6 months at 25 °C ranged from 0 to 80%.J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021 Jul;20(7):2350-2358


They also found when you increase the temperature to 40°C retinol expires extra quickly with all samples showing a loss of retinol between 40-100% after 6 months. In fact, one-third of retinol samples tested at this temperature had completely expired at the 6-month mark.  Every pinch of retinol had ‘gone brown’.

Retinol likes to go on holiday to Iceland not Thailand 🙂

How Quickly Does Retinol Expire?

Shockingly this team of researchers also find – declared shelf life isn’t a good indication of in-real-life shelf life – just look at this;

Most cosmetics declared a 6-months or 12-months shelf-life after opening. Less than one-third of the tested cosmetics contained ≥80% of the initial retinoid content at their shelf lives, while more than half of them contained about or less than half of the retinoid contents.J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021 Jul;20(7):2350-2358

They also find that the average shelf-life at 25°C is about 2 months – meaning 2 months later a product no longer contained its stated retinol concentration – whether that was 0.01% or 0.1%.

Retinol is a bit like having a giant chocolate bar in your cupboard – it doesn’t stay for long and it’s constantly getting nibbled at 😂

When Does Retinol Expire?

How do you get anti-ageing benefits from retinol before your retinol gets too excited and goes bad?

You ask the best questions 🙂

For great anti-ageing benefits, in my opinion, you should be replacing your anti-ageing retinol every 6 months at least. 

After 6 months of use, it’s likely 40% of the retinol in your serum or cream has expired and gone bad.

Psst – this is an average and actually for some more expensive products 80% of the retinol will have expired.

Take a peek at this amazing science study finding which shows us that budget retinol might actually be best;

The formulations with the lowest retinoid degradation… belong to the lower-mid price range (up to 50 € per 50 mL), whereas the tested highest-priced products were subjected to more extensive degradation.J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021 Jul;20(7):2350-2358

Yet more proof you don’t have to pay big bucks to get effective anti-ageing skincare that reverses fine lines and wrinkles. Wahoo.

Psst, if you’re serious about anti-ageing and keeping your skin young for life grab your free copy of my 5 Best Anti-Ageing Actives cheatsheet. Get your free copy here.

How to Stop Retinol Going Bad

Next time you buy a new retinol serum or cream here’s what you’re going to do. Firstly you’re going to check the date and plus 6 months to it – then write this date on your tube or bottle of retinol. For example, if you open a new retinol serum on the 26th of July you’re going to write 26th December. This is the date you throw this tube or bottle of retinol in the bin.

Then to stop your retinol from expiring and going bad quickly you will follow these top 5 steps.

These top 5 steps are super important because even with our 6-month retinol expiry rule –  some retinol products actually lose 80% retinol when stored at about room temperature for 6 months. Meaning after 3 months they might already have lost 40% of their anti-ageing benefits.

To slow this retinol expiration you can;

  1. Keep your retinol in the fridge until you’re ready to use it – average fridge temperature is between 3-5oC
  2. Optional: keep your retinol in the fridge between uses (personally I’m too lazy for this one, so no judgement if it’s not for you either)
  3. Keep your retinol in a dark cupboard away from light (psst – that retinol expiry paper published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology finds that ‘Light degradation was more pronounced than temperature-induced degradation’ – meaning light expires retinol quicker than heat)
  4. Replace pipettes with a pump you don’t have to remove from the bottle to use – psst pipettes are often used in retinol serums from budget brands like The Ordinary – using a pump minimises exposure of retinol to light and oxidation
  5. Only use your retinol in your evening skincare routine

Bonus Step: Does Retinol Expire?

Because heck yes retinol does expire and quickly, you might also consider a different member of the retinoid family – one known as Granactive retinoid.

Psst – you’ll see Granactive retinoid on your skincare ingredients list as hydroxypinacolone retinoate [HPR].

Granactive retinoid is a fantastic retinol alternative because of this stark fact;

HPR was found very stable in the tested formulation at 25 °C after 6 months (95% of the initial content remained). High chemical stability was also evident at 40 °C (97% of the initial content remained after 3 months).J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021 Jul;20(7):2350-2358

Wowser eh. Unlike retinol skincare which can lose up to 80% of its anti-ageing powers after 6 months at 25°C i.e. near room temperature, Granactive retinoid loses barely any of its anti-ageing powers – just 5% which is honestly nothing in the grand scheme of you getting glowy, healthy, happy, younger skin.

Granactive retinoid loves to go on holiday to Thailand, doesn’t mind Iceland either and is more like 100% bitter dark chocolate than can’t stop eating dairy milk.

Psst – now it’s time to create your best anti-ageing skincare routine, one that will keep your skin forever younger. You’re going to do this by enrolling in my online anti-ageing video course called AgeLock. Inside I’m talking you through how to choose the best retinoid for your special skin plus which concentration of retinoid you should be starting with. As soon as you enrol you’re also getting instant access to my secret skincare library of the best retinoids (available wherever you are in the world). Here’s the link you need to find out more and enrol in AgeLock. I can’t wait to see you inside.

Start anti-ageing skin the sensitive way with AgeLock.