The Way You Store Your Favorite Skin-Care Products Could Be Making Them Moldy

Like that loaf of bread in your pantry, your favorite moisturizer can start growing fuzzy, green mold. Thanks to preservatives, though, fungi won't start popping up as soon as it does on a slice of that bread. But that doesn't necessarily mean mold doesn't crop up.

As much as we try to avoid preservatives in our food, they're necessary in skin care. "The reason that skin-care products contain preservatives is to prevent microorganisms from contaminating and growing within the products," explains Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "These organisms may include bacteria, yeast, and mold." Gross.

Like bacteria and yeast, mold can cause serious skin irritation. It may even be the reason why your favorite cleansing milk is suddenly making you break out. With that in mind, let's explore what exactly causes mold to develop in products and how you can avoid it. Spoiler alert: It may involve throwing out the beloved serum that you've been using sparingly for way too long.

What causes mold to grow in skin-care products?

Perhaps the most obvious answer: They are expired. (Here is more information on finding out exactly when that is.) Ted Lain, a board-certified dermatologist based in Texas, also points out that preservatives aren't always 100 percent effective for warding off fungus. For instance, where you store your skin-care arsenal can negatively affect them.

"Mold grows where there is an ideal environment for them," says Roberta Del Campo, a board-certified dermatologist based in Miami Beach, Florida. "Moisture, warmth, and food are all necessary for mold to grow." So if you keep your skin-care products in a hot, humid place, chances are they're susceptible to spoilage.

How can you tell if mold is growing in your skin-care products?

Other than checking the expiration date printed on the packaging, you can use your five senses to detect mold. (OK, your hearing and taste buds might not be able to help, but anything is possible.) "If the product does not look, smell, or feel the way you did when you purchased it, toss the product," Zeichner recommends.

If you're looking for mold, you might not be able to find it, though. It isn't always fluffy and green like it is on bread. The fungus can play the ultimate camouflage act by transforming into the same color as your product, Del Campo says. Products that come in opaque bottles and tubes make the nastiness hard to spot, too. (Some people decant their products into glass bottles for this reason.) With this in mind, a change in smell can be the biggest indicator of contamination.

How does mold affect skin?

The way your skin reacts to mold depends on the state of it, as well as your immune system, says Lain. "For those with a normal immune system and skin that is not inflamed or irritated, there is little risk that mold will cause much of an issue," he explains. "For those with a compromised immune system or if the barrier function of skin is limited, the mold could cause an infection."

On the less severe side, a rash, including an eczema-like reaction or even hives, could also occur. "Further, it can cause itchy or swollen eyes when used on the face," Del Campo adds.

How can you keep mold from growing?

The easiest thing you can do is keep the lids on your products tight to "prevent moisture from penetrating into them," Del Campo says. You can also keep them in a dry area with low humidity. Lain added that storing products in a dark place also helps. If a location like this doesn't exist for you, placing your products in the refrigerator is always a good option. You could even take cues from Rihanna's makeup artist Priscilla Ono and invest in a teeny-tiny cooler just for your favorite products.

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Most of all, dermatologists across the board agree that you should avoid using products past their expiration date. It's as simple as that. Throwing your favorite hydrating mask or that cream you've been holding onto past its prime may be the hard part, though.

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