How To Tell If Your Product Has Gone Bad

There's no way around it. Sometimes a product you've made goes bad. In my lab there is - at any given time - a selection of creams, gels, and serums from a week to 5 years old standing around specifically for the purpose of being tested, monitored, and studied.

Above is a clear indication (pun totally intended) that something inside this bottle just isn't very happy any more. The cloudiness at the bottom is not supposed to be there. Its presence is a fail-safe visual warning that this face gel has turned into a bacterial bomb and is suitable for one thing only – being discarded.

Let's imagine (for a brief moment) that we don't have access to advanced microbiological testing equipment. What to do?

There are ways.

Today I'm going to pass on a few basic tips on how to check your homemade products and how to know when to toss them.

 When To Feel Safe

If you're a fan of making everything preservative-free, you can never feel safe about anything containing liquids. Always store your products in the refrigerator and use them within 2-3 days. Anhydrous products fare far better that anything containing liquids, but also need monitoring. But of course – if you make everything preservative-free, you already know this.

If you do use preservatives, don't think you're automatically safe from every kind of bacterial attack. Preservatives can fail too. Many 'natural preservatives' (such as grapefruit seed extract) are useless unless combined with actual preservatives. When you've made several identical batches of the same product that perform consistently over a long period of time (up to 2 years), then you can start feeling safe.

The Sight Test

Check for foreign material
A sight test requires close scrutiny with ample lighting. Don't be shy about using a magnifier and a powerful light source. If the product is mostly liquid, tip the bottle slowly while observing closely. Check for any floating material. If anything appears in your product that wasn't there before - toss it!

A hydrosol-based skin tonic or skin mist is an ideal candidate for bacterial partying, so a sighting of even the teensiest bit of floating material is basis for binning the product.

Check the Texture
Has your cream or serum separated or changed texture? It could be an emulsion fail, but it could also be because the product has gone off. Check your production date to see if it could just mean that your formula needs adjusting. If your production date is more than 2 weeks ago, proceed immediately to the nose test.

Check the Color
Has the color changed? This could be because some of your ingredients are reacting to each other. It may not necessarily mean the product has gone off. Also, some ingredients change color regardless of preservatives. For example, aloe vera juice can go from clear to dark brown and still be good. Powdered cranberry will also change color – depending on what it's mixed with. Check your production date, If your product was made more than 7 days ago and the color change seems illogical, proceed immediately to the nose test.

Check for Mould
If there is any type of growth that wasn't there before - toss it!

The Nose Test

Smell the product. Does it still smell fresh? or neutral? or floral? In short - does it smell exactly like it did when you made it? There should be no doubt in your mind. If it smells even the slightest bit different – if there is even an inkling of doubt – toss it!

When in Doubt - Use the Mantra

If everything else seems ok, but you still have a bit of a niggle that perhaps, maybe there is a slight chance there could be something wrong, then remember the mantra – and trust your own perception.

Are you in doubt? Then throw it out.

As a wise lady once told me: "If there is doubt, then there is no doubt."

 Do Tell

Do you have any tips to share on this subject? Please drop a comment.


Jonna from Denver said…
Hi Lise, Some extracts, preservatives and oils are extremely weakened and sensitive by light and extreme changes in temperature.
My son-in-law insists on keeping his lotions for his rough dry hands in his truck, year round, and wonders why they go bad so fast. Not only do they smell sour, but also rancid.
As a manufacturer, I add vegetable glycerin in the winter months when I have to ship, and I also have to change the barcodes here in the US, just because I changed the formulae a little so it would not freeze during shipping process. Lesson here, skin care product do destabilize for a ton of reasons, light, heat, and freezing cold, and much more.
LisaLise said…
Hi Jonna! Excellent input - thanks for sharing :)