Fungi Growing in Expired Products: A Cautionary Tale

So you’ve probably realised by now that I’m a bit of a skin care junkie – in an almost literal sense. I have a compulsion to try new every skincare collection I can lay my hands on and experience as many products as I can. The only issue is that I don’t like to change my skin products out too often, lest I anger the skin gods and make things worse. I also don’t like the feeling of risking losing a product I love due to ill-preparation or discontinuation. So this all leads to the main issue: hoarding.

Now in every other area of my life I am so good at not holding onto unnecessary things. I practice minimalism in my furniture choices, in my color schemes and design preferences, in the clutter around my house. But when it comes to skin I can’t help but to buy and collect heinous amounts of products. These poor products have nowhere to go but to be banished to the back of my drawer. And there they sit until I remember their existence and pull them out to have another go.

My collection is a lot smaller in my current house because I left behind kilos of products in Australia. My sister looked beyond gleeful when she realised she’d have unfettered access while I’d be away. I brought only what I told myself I needed. Yet still, I’ve already filled two shopping bags full in just 6 months.

Before anyone tells me – I do keep my bathroom very clean and organised. Let this be a cautionary tale: stay diligent in checking out what’s inside the products, not just around them.

And so we find ourselves yesterday, when I was looking through my skincare drawer to see if I had my beloved Alpha Lipoic Acid. You see, I had the urge to add it back into routine, but when I eventually found my current opened bottle, it had a bit of a strange appearance. When I pulled the glass dropper out, inside could see small crystalline bits floating around. The mixture also started to look a little bit cloudy.

It had been that way for a while, even last year when I was actively using it. I just ignored it until this point. On realizing I had bought the bottle over a year-and-a-half prior, I thought it was probably getting old and maybe it’s time to whip out the backup I knew I had somewhere. So I went rummaging through my frankly embarrassing pile of skin care.

“Thank goodness” I thought, as I pulled out the backup bottle I’d bought an indefinite amount of time ago. So I ripped the box open and went straight in to put it on my face without a second thought. Luckily for me, I took a second to have a quick glance at the bottle just as it came up to my face. I’m so glad I did, because what I saw horrified me.

It appears that my beloved alpha lipoic acid had had a baby. And by that I mean it was growing some sort of organism. I took a closer look and there was a big, shifting, worm-like being pressed up inside the darkened glass. If I’m being honest I almost shattered the glass bottle on to my tile floor out of sheer horror.

Skin care does expire: and can grow fungi and bacteria

Thinking about it for even just a moment I now realize that I bought this backup well over a year ago. My current bottle at the time hadn’t even nearly run out yet. I was just so petrified that I wouldn’t be able to find another product that I love so much or it will be discontinued, so I thought it better to have a backup.

But being me I actually cycled the product out of my routine soon after as I tried new things. This meant the open bottle and the new bottle went unused, and sat for over a year festering and fermenting away.

Please don’t think I don’t take care of my collection; they do live in a cool, dark, dry place.

Thankfully this made me take a better look at the current open bottle of the acid that I had on my shelf. I hadn’t used it in over 6 months. Thank goodness, because looking closer I could see that the whole thing was chock full of flecks of the same substance.

Being the curious son of a bitch I am, I whipped out my camera to share what I found with you. I took these photos yesterday morning before I went to open up the bottles so we can see what it looks inside. These make me think of some sort of a deranged preservation experiment. Picture shrunken heads in jars in a laboratory. Backlit from my phone and the window, things look even worse.

I didn’t know what to expect when I open them up. I prepared for the worst, like some sort of rancid smell.

Thankfully no such thing greeted me. With just the dropper out though, things were already not looking good. It was opaque and milky where it’s supposed to be translucent.

Upon dumping the bottle, I was met with fairly close to the standard Alpha Lipoic Acid formula as I was familiar with, nearly as clear as ever. Surprisingly uneventful. But then out came the thing. Its texture was like curdled milk.

If I moved or prodded it too much, it broke apart. In the in-use opened bottle, the pieces came out a lot smaller. I guess as it was forming, my opening and closing of the bottle was disturbing it and making it break up into smaller pieces, meeting I didn’t notice until it was too late.

To be honest, it looks less scary out of the bottle. Phew.

Fungal growth causing fungal acne

The most disturbing part of this story is that last year I went through from the worst skin of my entire life. I suffered from a recurring fungal infection for several months. I could never tell what was causing it, and to this day I didn’t know. I’ll include a photo to show you just how bad it was:

Yeah. Thankfully, it healed it entirely after proper doctor’s care – and also not using this product anymore. I was trying to keep my routine to a minimum so there weren’t any variables I wasn’t in control of.

Part of me now thinks that the most likely scenario was that I was introducing the fungi to my skin through this contaminated product. Each time my skin would heal after an outbreak I would give it a week or two and then think “hey, it’s probably time to use my ALA again”. Those little fungi spores would get a one-way ticket right into my skin and wreak havoc all over again.

In some way, pouring this product out onto a plate so I could see the mess I’d made was a little therapeutic. It felt like finally getting and eyelash out of your eye that had been stuck there for hours. The cause of say many months is pain and suffering was sitting right in front of me. I felt careless and stupid for not being more careful about what was going on my face.

Now I’m no scientist, and I didn’t test the culture inside the bottles, so I can’t say for sure that it’s the cause, but it stands to reason that using rancid skin care with any sort of growth for so long is definitely going to cause some issues.

The moral of the story is to always ensure you’re sticking to expiry dates and common sense, even if your product is unopened, and not buying backups backups of backups of things you already have opened versions of. It’s a waste of time and money, and you might risk a long-standing severe fungal infection like I had. Practice good skin hygiene. And hey, maybe go check out your own skin care collection to check you haven’t also unknowingly grown any science experiments.



  1. […] gone off while it was in disuse and, well, is no longer something I’ll be putting on my skin. You can see pictures of the expired product here. Picture a shrunken head in a jar, but it’s a fungal colony. Ew! Be sure to keep an eye on […]

  2. Personally I probably would’ve screamed & dropped the bottle lol , ‪suddenly i’m terrified . i’m going to start checking my products for now & forever . thank you so much for sharing .

    Zayna ||

  3. THIS HAPPENED TO MINE AS WELL. THANK U SO MUCH. If I didn’t stumble upon your post, I would still be using the product, thinking it’s not a big deal I only bought it 3 months ago so now I kinda felt like I’m done with this product

    • No way, that’s crazy! Whatever it is inside there, I definitely don’t think it’s safe to use products that have changed colour/texture on you. Toss it!

  4. […] Organisation: To make doing your routine faster easier and frictionless. You’ll have a place for everything and everything in its place. Training yourself to go to this certain spot and do your routine is a trick to stick to your routine. Keeping your tools near your products as well instead of hidden in some drawer means everything’s within reach. Plus, it’ll reduce the chances you’ll run into a visibly expired product situation left unattended, like I had. […]

Leave a Reply