TikTok reveals what the symbols on cosmetic bottles really mean

Whether you’re a beauty aficionado or not, it’s likely you have some ancient bottles of body soap or shaving cream stashed in the back of your bathroom cabinet.

The reality is, there is a shelf life for many cosmetic products — from high-end makeup to drug store skincare — which the average shopper might not realize is listed on the back of bottles and containers. There are a number of symbols you can find on the back of the packaging, which are used by companies to indicate specific information about the product.

#TikToktaughtme, a popular hashtag on TikTok, hosts all sorts of helpful tutorials and videos on the social platform, including one by user Tracy, who goes by the handle totalnutso, about finding out what the jar on the back of products means.

“Did ya’ll know this?” she captioned the video.


Did ya’ll know this? I’ll still use expired stuff but now I know when it’s TOO expired 😂 #todayyearsold #beautytips #cosmetics #mindblownfacts

♬ original sound – totalnutso

“I was today’s years old when I found out that this little symbol with a number and an ‘M’ on the back of products is to tell you how long you have after breaking the seal to use it before it’s no longer considered good,” Tracy narrates in the clip.

The “M” stands for months. While a handful of commenters already knew this, a couple of newbies were amazed by the news.

“51 years old! Never knew???? I thought it was something for the manufacturer?? Thanks for the info!” one person replied.

Others seemed stressed about how to remember when they first opened a product, but Tracy had some helpful advice.

“I usually remember when I buy it which is around when I open it,” Tracy replied in the comments. “I mean I use expired stuff and am still alive lol.”

Some makeup products have a standard shelf life, no matter the brand. Mascara lasts only four to six months because it’s applied close to your eyes and can easily pick up bacteria. For the same reason, liquid eyeliner only lasts four to six months, while pencil eyeliners with tightly sealed caps can last up to two years. Lipstick, bronzer, blush and eyeshadow can last anywhere from 18 months to two years because it’s harder for bacteria to grow in items that are solid and dry. Concealer and foundation can last from a year to 18 months, and challenging that expiration time can result in breakouts.

There are other symbols on the back of products that might not be as well known as the jar with the expiration date.

Credit: VectorStock

A half-filled hourglass means the product has a shelf life of 30 months or two and a half years.

Credit: VectorStock

A lowercase ‘e’ indicates that the bottle meets the standard for “estimated volume.” That means if it’s advertised as being 150mL, it is guaranteed 150mL.

Credit: VectorStock

A flame over a horizontal line implies that the liquid inside is flammable. This is most often found on hairsprays and nail polish. These items should be stored in a cool, dry place.

Credit: VectorStock

A hand pointing to a book means that there is additional information about the product included in the packaging. Typically the item will come in a box with a pamphlet or slip of paper with information the manufacturer deemed necessary for the consumer, but it couldn’t fit on the product itself.

EAC, which is included on the first bottle Tracy shows in her TikTok, stands for the Eurasian Conformity Mark which confirms that the product meets all the technical regulations of the Eurasian Customs Union.

Love TikTok hacks? Check out this clever one about a way to avoid texting your ex.

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