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Has My Natural Product Gone Bad?

Have a natural product that you haven’t used in a long time? Here’s how to tell if it’s still good to use.

  1. Does it have a shelf life date on it? This symbol shows an open container with a number beside it — for instance, 12M means that the product will be good for at least 12 months after opening, if stored appropriately. If it has been stored in bright sunlight or extreme temperatures (for instance, if it froze, or was stored in a hot car), it will not last as long.
  2. The smell test. If you remember what the product smelled like when it was new, you can compare whether it smells less strong, or just “not quite right.” Oil-based products like lip balms and body butters can go rancid due to their high oil content, and it should be easy to tell whether that has happened. Oil that has gone rancid has a sharp, bitter odour to it. Other smells to look for: sour (for products that contain milk ingredients); mouldy; “off.”
  3. Not going bad, but losing effectiveness: many products that contain essential oils will take a very long time to go bad, since essential oils all have a degree of preservative effect. However, the essential oils and other ingredients can become less effective with time, especially if the product is packaged in a clear-sided container; or has been exposed to sunlight or heat. For products such as natural bug sprays, you might notice that while they look and smell good, they just might not work as well anymore. This is based on storage and age, and can be determined with use.
  4. Some ingredients to watch for: any carrier oil (these ones have a shorter shelf life); water; citrus oils; milk ingredients (milk powder and other)
  5. Will it do any harm if it has gone bad? The last point to consider is whether the product could harm you or your loved ones if it is no longer good. In most cases, with regular useage, the answer is no. Oil that has gone rancid, for instance, may cause stinging, or cause the balm in which it’s included to not heal effectively, but it won’t do real harm. However, byproducts of spoilage such as mould or specific chemical reactions can potentially cause reactions. And it’s never good to take the chance! If the product smells off; has changed colour or consistency; has visible mould or chunks; or is well past its shelf life expectancy, dispose of it in the compost (if you have municipal composting) or the garbage and buy new!