Home Skincare Does Salicylic Acid Expire?

Does Salicylic Acid Expire?

by Gabbi

Picture this: you’re cleaning out your bathroom cabinets and stumble across some of your old skincare products.

They’re still mostly full, and they don’t seem to be too different from when you were regularly using them, and you find yourself wondering if, maybe, you can pick up where you left off and start using it again. 

Our advice? Don’t. All skincare products have a shelf life that you should stick to in order to keep your skin happy. From cleansers to toners, to even the most basic products like exfoliants. Today, we’ll dive into the issues surrounding one of the most commonly used skincare products – salicylic acid.

Does salicylic acid expire? Salicylic acid, like all beauty products, does expire. It has a 2-year shelf life that you should adhere to and will show visible signs of going bad that let you know it’s past its use date. 

Curious to know when it’s time to toss your salicylic acid into the bin? Learn all about what you should do after your products hit their expiration, as well as how to tell when they’ve gone bad, in this article!

Does Salicylic Acid Expire?

Beauty is forever, but beauty products, on the other hand, definitely aren’t!

Like food, all beauty products have a best-by date which lets you know how long they’re going to be effective. Some items will have a date on the bottle, especially if they’re made sustainably and contain no preservatives (think Lush Cosmetics). However, if you’re buying from a major brand, they likely won’t have a date on them.

So what do you do then? Go by the shelf-life. The shelf-life of salicylic acid is around 1 year when bought fresh off the line. If you’ve bought your salicylic acid from a source where you aren’t sure how long it’s been on the shelf, you may be concerned about how much life you have left in your formula. 

Thankfully, you can check out this handy website, where you can enter the batch code and brand of your product and find out exactly when it was manufactured, and how long you have left to use it.

Our top tip for figuring out whether your salicylic acid is on its last leg is to keep an eye on it. If your formula starts switching up in any quality (smell, feel, etc.), it’s a clear indicator that something is going astray. 

Can You Use Expired Salicylic Acid?

Let’s say you turn your nose to the threat of danger, and decide to re-integrate an expired salicylic acid into your skincare routine. What exactly would be the repercussions- and what exactly are you putting on your face?

First things first, let’s clear up a common misconception: using expired skin care products isn’t technically dangerous. You definitely won’t burn your skin off or hurt your face in any way, but don’t let that convince you that it’s a safe decision!

If your salicylic acid is still in liquid form, you can still use it on your face. However, expect a distinct lack of potency.

When a beauty product passes its best-by date, it doesn’t turn dangerous, but rather less effective. That means your salicylic acid will be less acne-fighting, less cell-renewing, and cannot fight inflammation as effectively. 

The effectivity decrease will happen over time. If you use your salicylic acid a day or two after the expiry date, you may not notice much of a difference, but if you decide to use it after a month or two, you’ll definitely acknowledge a lack of results. 

So, can you use an expired salicylic acid? Definitely! But don’t expect the best results.

Does Salicylic Acid Go Bad?

Salicylic acid can absolutely go bad, and the process can speed up depending entirely on how well you stored your product! Salicylic acid is particularly finicky, and requires an ideal environment in order for it to maintain its maximum effectiveness, and to preserve its shelf life for as long as possible. 

To maintain the prime state of your acid, ensure that you’re storing it away from direct sunlight. If your salicylic acid sits in direct warmth and light, it can affect the stability of the formula. The same consequence can occur if you leave it in an area with a lot of moisture or a lack of ventilation.

Aside from the potency loss, salicylic acid is a beauty product that undergoes a distinct physical change when it has gone bad, so you’ll be able to quickly tell if the product is still in its stable state, or if it’s gone off the deep end. 

Remember, the life span of your product depends on how well you store it, how often you use it, and how tightly you’re closing the top after use. Your product could go bad in just a month with poor storage, and can last as long as one year if you’re maintaining it with utmost attention. 

How To Tell If Salicylic Acid Has Gone Bad

Aside from the date, there are a couple of telltale signs to let you know that your salicylic acid is ready for the bin! Here are just a couple:


Most salicylic acids are typically clear straight from the bottle. If you were to moisten a cotton ball or round with the solution and leave it out on the counter overnight, it’s likely that you’ll be greeted with a slightly yellow tinge on the cotton when you revisit it in the morning. 

Due to the exposure to the elements, the salicylic acid on the cotton has gone bad. Take note of that color, as once the product in the bottle starts changing into that hue, you’ll be able to recognize that it’s nearing the end of its shelf life. 

This is a great way to test what shade your specific product will turn, as there are some salicylic acid solutions out there that already have a slight golden or yellow tint to them. 


When swiping your product across your face, or dispensing it onto a facial tool, a texture change should be immediately apparent.

Salicylic acids are usually the thickness of water or a serum (or a mixture of both), if you notice a chunkiness, solidification, or a sudden thinning of the product, go ahead and toss it!

Noticing the ingredients in your salicylic acid separating, or layering is also a sign of expiration. If your acid begins needing a good shake or two before you dispense it, that’s a sign of going bad. 

The same goes for how it feels on your skin. If your acid leaves your skin pilling, grainy, or the application process just isn’t going as smoothly as you’re used to it going, that is also a clear indicator that something is astray.

Packaging Change

This typically happens from a lack of careful storage, but can happen once a product is well past its best-by date. 

If you notice swelling, deterioration, yellowing, or leaking on the packaging that your acid is in- go ahead and give it a toss. This could be caused by the bottle itself weakening and going bad (which could allow bacteria and germs into the product, which would in turn make it unsafe for your skin).

Another reason for packaging distortion is that the salicylic acid itself has gone unstable and is eating through the bottle or casing its in. Either way, packaging distortion (aside from the standard wear and tear), is a definite sign that your acid has aged out!


The biggest sign, and perhaps the most jarring, is that the smell of your product will change. 

This alone should deter you from using your salicylic acid, but if you need the nitty-gritty details of it all, you should note that smell is the first thing to change once a product hits its expiry date! This change can be mild, or especially pungent, and is likely to worsen over time.

Fishy, overly tangy, or even just slightly “off” smelling odors coming from your product shouldn’t be overlooked or ignored.

If your product is noted as being preservative-free or made with all-natural ingredients, it’s likely the smell it emits once it’s past its shelf life will be a bit more pungent than other products.

Final Thoughts

Salicylic Acid, like all beauty products, is not exempt from the test of time! With a standard shelf life of one year, this cosmetic staple is likely to last you a bit longer than your other skincare favorites. However, once you notice any odor, texture, or package distortion, it’s high time for you to part ways with your acid!

Related Question

What’s the ideal way to store your salicylic acid?

Anywhere cool, dry, and away from moisture and excess heat is ideal! So, if you’re putting your acid on top of bathroom counter (where it can be exposed to moisture from your shower, sunshine from the window, etc.), you may want to try placing it in the cabinets instead. 

Another popular location for people to put their AHAs/BHAs is a skincare fridge (or your actual fridge!). This can extend the life of your product and keep it effective, longer. 

Will my salicylic acid expire if it’s unopened?

Most skincare products will be preserved just fine if left sealed! They can keep for a couple of years, but once opened (and once the product is exposed to air), the clock starts ticking- and the product, in this case, salicylic acid, needs to be used within its year-long shelf life. 

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