When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by my grannie’s potions and lotions.
I would watch as she opened those beautiful jars, picked up a tiny amount of cream with her fingers, and applied them gently all over her face, longing for the day when I could finally do the same.
When that day finally came, I wasn’t interested in playing with them anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, my beautiful friend. I’m still interested in playing with skincare. Just not when it comes in jars. Here’s why:
1. Jar Packaging Spoils The Formula
Retinol. Vitamin C. UV filters. Antioxidants.
All the goodies your skin needs to stay young and healthy aren’t stable. Every time they are exposed to light and air (every time you open the jar, basically), they lose a bit of their effectiveness.
The scientific name of this process is oxidation. Oxidation begins from the very first moment you open the jar, and continues with every use until the best ingredients inside our lotions and potions become completely useless.
How fast? There’s no way to know for sure. Retinol, for example, becomes useless in a month when continually exposed to light. Continually is the key word here.
Oxidation happens slowly. And mostly to the top layer. If you close that lid really quickly after scooping up the product inside, chances are your retinol cream will still be effective a few months down the line.
It’s when you leave that jar open on your bathroom counter for who knows how long that retinol quickly spoils.
Related: Common Antioxidants In Skincare Products (That Should NEVER Be Packaged In Jars!)
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2. Jar Packaging Isn’t Hygienic
But what if you’re already using a basic moisturizer, like Nivea Creme? There’s nothing in there that could oxidise. So, we’re safe, right?
Not exactly. Thing is, picking up the cream with our fingers isn’t exactly the most hygienic thing to do. Even if your hands look clean, there are plenty of germs, dirt, and a whole bunch of other stuff on them you don’t want in your skincare products.
And, once they’re in our cream, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll end up on our face. Ewww!
If your cream doesn’t have a good preservative system (hint: most natural skincare products DON’T), any bacteria that finds their way inside them will start reproducing and spoil it. They may even give you an infection…
P.S. These days, some brands will add a spatula into the bargain to help you scoop out the product safely. Use it!
Related: The Battle Of The Preservatives: Which Is The Best Alternative To Parabens?
Should You Avoid Jar Packaging?
Jar packaging isn’t the best way to store skincare products. But it’s not as bad as people think.
For basic, but thick moisturiser, this type of packaging is the most practical. Put that thick goop in a tube and you won’t be able to get every last drop out.
But, you need to be careful. Always wash your hands before you put them in a jar and close that lid quickly!
The Bottom Line
Jars may look pretty, but they won’t protect your anti-aging skincare products from spoilage and bacteria. If you can, opt for products packaged in opaque and air-tight tubes and bottles.
Do you avoid jar packaging, too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
I always wondered about tubes (most of my products are packaged in them)…
Jars = bad. OK. Pumps = good. OK.
But tubes… to me it seems like they also allow air in.
Ana, I do see your point. I guess with tubes there is the risk that the small amount of product that’s directly below the opening will be exposed to light and slowly oxidize, but the rest of the product will remain intact and good. With jars instead, the entire upper layer will be rendered useless and thus the product will go bad a lot sooner.
I don’t understand why “high end” skin care is still, to this day, sold in jars. Such a waste of money. You would think that big cosmetics companies don’t know about this. I guess it’s easier to make an interesting jar desigh than a tube or pump. Many do buy products partly for the presentation, because they look good on their vanity shelves. I only own one jar packaged moisturizer that contains no actives & use a little spatula to keep it as clean as possible. It’s a Nuxe moisturizer that I just love & use a few times a week. 😀
Icaria, I agree with you that skincare products, especially high end ones, shouldn’t be packaged in jars. It’s a waste of money indeed. Unfortunately a lot of women love jars as they are pretty and cute, and aren’t aware of the problems associated with this type of packaging. And I guess cosmetic companies find it more convenient to keep things as they are rather than educate consumers and change the packaging.
Will the antioxidants stay intact if I move the product all at once into a tube or bottle?
Cathy, if the bottle/tube is opaque then yes, I believe the antioxidants would last a lot longer.
I don’t even reach for my H20 Face Oasis moisturizer just because it’s in a jar! I have several day-time face moisturizers and I only sometimes use the jar products when I’ve washed my hands and I’m not rushing anywhere. It’s so unsanitary. Nails harvest dirt and bacteria so easily.
I agree with Icaria that HE brands should know better than to package so many of their products in jars. But everything is about $$. 😮 Luckily there’s so many options out there so we can all get what we want.
Janessa, I agree. Luckily preservatives can kill some of the bacteria that may enter the jars, but it’s always best not to risk it or pick the product up with a spatula instead.
And that’s so true too. As long as consumers will keep buying moisturizers in jars, HE brands won’t change the packaging. It’s a good thing that are many other options available.
“Say NO to Jar Packaging!”
That reminds me of “Say NO to Drugs!” as we have drug-free weeks at school (yeah right… at least they try :P) and that is such a makeup geeky slogan.
Janessa, I’m glad you like the slogan. 🙂
And let’s hope those drug-free weeks will be helpful for some people at least. Drugs are so bad for you, we should all stay away from them.
Yup, I will never even try them. The only drugs I use are sunscreens 😀
No point in trying something that will lose its effectiveness soon, right? And that’s good, there are lots of drugstore sunscreens that do a good job so you don’t need to splurge on one. 🙂
The high end companies know, but they don’t care. What matters to them is the bottom line. Customers equate glass jars with quality, so the high end companies supply glass jars. It’s just a bonus that the products ‘go off’ quicker, meaning you will just need to buy more sooner.
Michelle, that is so true. It’s a shame that more consumers don’t know about what a poor packaging choice jars are. Some brands won’t change their packaging until they realize it is more convenient financially for them to do so.
The minute I get my moisturizer home I get a craft stick and a dark PET bottle and transfer my cream into the bottle.It’s irritating that companies still use jar moisturizers but unfortunately some of the best formulas are in a jar.
Kelley, what a great idea! And I agree. There’s not much point in creating a good formula if you’re gonna put it in a jar, where it’ll become ineffective within weeks, and yet a lot of companies do it. *sighs*
This is such a useful article I have been wondering about this. Quick question, will ingredients be degraded very much after a one off brief exposure to air? I bought a product that came with an air tight pump but the pump broke so i had to unscrew it to sort it out. It was brand new and more expensive than normal for me so I was wondering how much damage this would do? Hopefully most of the ingredients are ok!
Emma, hi, and thank you. I’m glad you’ve found this post informative. Usually, degradation happens slowly. Every time you open the jar, a little bit of the effectiveness of its ingredients disappear. Open it one too many times, and it is all gone.
If you unscrewed your bottle only once and did a quick job, then it’s unlikely that much damage was done. Probably a bit of the product at the top may have lost some effectiveness, but most of it will still be good.
Sorry to burst the bubble here but in my observation pumps are not air free either. To make matters worse, they tend to contribute also to the cost and bulk of the packaging — that is to say, they are environmentally wasteful — while at the same time a certain amount of product as you get toward the end is never dispensed (wasted).
I recently saw a notice on the bottom of a retail antioxidant serum that said that it was necessary to dispense 6-10 pumps of the product before first use and periodically afterward to remove air bubbles. Not only does that waste a ton of product, but because in this case the packaging was clear I could clearly see that the air bubble was not budging!
Actually, I don’t think this was a unique situation for a pump, just the manufacturer being more honest than most (and, as mentioned, the pump was clear and the serum was clear so it was possible to “see” to appreciate the fact that air DOES get into products that are packaged this way).
Next time you have one of your pump-based skin care products, listen closely to what happens after you depress the pump mechanism. You may actually hear a sucking sound as the pump rises back up after you dispense it. As the contents of a pump-based skin care product are dispensed, a gap forms as the bottle empties and that space is filled by AIR! I think the notion of an airless pump is a marketing ploy. Why? Because if air did not replace the volume of the interior as the product quantity diminishes with use, the pump mechanism would be sucked down by a vacuum and become stuck.
The best solution is probably a “needle nose tube”, not your standard type of tube dispenser but the type that forces the content through a tiny elongated “neck” before exiting a small aperture. Air will still be sucked in, but it will not end up dispersed in the product to the same extent (that is evidenced by the fact that as you empty such a tube, the tube begins to flatten like a toothpaste tube would — the flattening demonstrates that there is no air replacing what had been filled with product).
Secondly, it would be better if cosmetics and skin care manufacturers took their 1.7 ounce or 2 ounce product and broke it down into a series of .5 ounce opaque jars. Why? Because the jar would be gone (used up) before the ingredients became severely contaminated and/or degraded. Just the same, I hesitate to suggest this workaround because it would give every skin care manufacturer an opportunity to create more product/packaging (waste) and then charge more for the trouble of having that many more “micro jars” to fill in production. Plus, where you formerly had a generous 2 ounce portion the manufacturer might charge the same amount for a fraction of that. That means that unless manufacturers were to package four half ounce jars in one larger package as an alternative to a single 2 ounce tub, consumers would end up paying more for infinitesimal amounts of product.
Fortunately, I don’t think we have to worry about product contamination when A) a spatula is used — assuming it is a fresh one each time, or B) the product is preserved with parabens (as most still are).
On a final note: I have seen it stated elsewhere — notably by the “Cosmetics Cop” — that antioxidants are notoriously unstable and yet have found no citations to literature indicating as much. Where are the studies that prove just how unstable various beneficial ingredients are, or how long they CAN be expected to remain viable assuming they are incorporated into a professionally-developed formula packaged in a jar or a tub? Surely not all antioxidants break down at the same rate, so rather than make a blanket assessment it would be nice to see which ones are “ok” in such conditions and which ones are completely degraded in less than a month after opening the product. In other words, links please!
DLYNN, thank you for your comment. You make some valid points. Pumps may not be completely air free but I think they let in a lot less air than jars, so I’d still recommend them.
I found a few studies proving that some ingredients are unstable and degrade when exposed to light, heat, and air, but they didn’t mention how long that takes. I’ll dig deeper. In the meantime, here are the links:
The links are very helpful. I would expect vitamin C to be one of those that doesn’t hold up all that long because I’ve found that mentioned even by dermatologists who have written articles online. However, what about antioxidants that are present in oils like pomegranate? I’m not at all sure if anti-oxidants that are water-soluble vs. oil-based makes a significant difference (or if oil-free formulas degrade faster than oil-based creams/serums or vise versa). There’s so much to learn! Thank you! 🙂
You’re welcome. Vitamin C is one of the most unstable antioxidants and can degrade really fast. Just like retinol, it is more stable when used in W/O/W emulsions. Water-based formulas instead degrade faster. You can check out these links for more information:
I’ve always been of the opinion that dipping ones finger into a jar of cream was about as sanitary as double-dipping in the salsa. Being a germ-a-phobe and prone to eye infections, I’ve long since kept all of my liquid and cream beauty products in a Zip-Loc bag in my refrigerator and subscribed to a “one dip” q-tip rule when it comes to anything in a jar. In addition to protecting them from heat degradation, applying “cold” cream to my face feels really good.
Tessa, it’s not very sanitary, I agree. I’m glad you found a solution for that. It’d be great if all creams were packaged in tubes and bottles, wouldn’t it?
Question about migrating the product from the jar to another container; how are you all sanitizing the spatula? Yes it’s a serious question, I’m thinking maybe it has an obvious answer and my inquiry may be irritating or perhaps an issue worthy of another article.
Justsurfingby, I usually just wash it with soap and water, but you can sanitize it with alcohol too, if you prefer.
I have to agree with DLynn. Tubes and some pumps let in a lot of air after pushing product out. Especially when are you are near the end of the product trying to force out every last precious drop.
So in a way, doesn’t a jar make more sense if you are using a spatula and just scraping off the top portion of the product. Rather than kneeding a tube over and over and mixing up the product with air?
Elizabeth Arden Ceramide one-use capsules make sense, but they’re expensive.
Certainly smaller containers make sense so the product gets used quicker, however, that increases the price of already ridiculously overpriced cosmetics. Sorry to say but we women are suckers when it comes to dishing out money to the beauty industry.
Paula Begoun, the Cosmetics Cop, rates a lot of products as “poor” simply because they come in jars. Her tubes are some of the worst. You really have to squeeze to get product out of those hard plastic tubes and then of course, air comes back in, only to get mixed up with the product as you squeeze and squeeze over and over again.
So what’s a woman to do to get fresh product?
On another note, I’m looking for a decently priced, anti-aging moisturizer for dry skin. Any recommendations.
Here’s the link to Cosmetics Cop’s article on jar packaging
Janice, thanks for the link to Cosmetic Cop’s article.
Pumps and tubes may not be perfect, but I still think they are better than jars. Tubes may let in some air, but their small openings let in less than a jar. When you open a jar, a larger amount of product is exposed not just to air, but light as well. You could remove the top layer every time you use the product, but that would just be a waste.
I wish creams could come in smaller packaging as well without that increasing the price tag, but I too doubt we will ever see that happening. Yet, it would be a wonderful solution for everyone.
You can check out my favourite moisturizers for dry skin here: http://beautifulwithbrains.com/2014/12/09/dry-skin-moisturizer-contain/ They all come in tubes, I’m afraid, because I don’t believe in packaging antioxidants in jars.
My dermatologist just recommended a moisturizer, and specifically wrote (jar) on my cheat sheet so I would know which one to get. I have thought for a while jars were bad, so I found this page while double checking. She’s always up on the latest research.
Well, I’m certainly not getting my retinol in a cream. I have a prescription pump for that. And the kind she recommended doesn’t have antioxidants (I have serums for that anyway). Since my moisurizer is always applied in a multistep process starting with washing my face, my hands should always be clean.
So I’m wondering how exactly the jar is a bad idea in this case? I think perhaps “waste of money” is an exaggeration. It seems to me it’s often a bad choice, and you have to be careful, but that’s not the same thing. Some of us do use basic moisturizers, with clean hands. I think I’ll trust my doctor on this.
Laura, thank you for your comment. I agree that a basic moisturizer can be packaged in a jar. If your hands are clean then there shouldn’t be any problem. But, with so many moisturizers with antioxidants on the market, I personally don’t see the point in using a very basic one, unless you have very dry skin. So I guess for me, personally, basic moisturizers are a waste of money too. But if you like it and it works well for you, then the jar packaging shouldn’t be an issue.
Decant the jar into an air-tight pump bottle. Problem solved ??
Camilla, great tip! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Can just normal moisturizers without antioxidants be stored in Jars. I am really confused with this jar packaging like Paula Begouns states it’s a waste of money but she is the only one I have heard mention it..
Thelma, yes, if the product doesn’t contain any antioxidants or ingredients that degrade when exposed to sunlight, it can be safely stored in jars.
There are many reasons but the first is with the packaging. Hygiene considerations aside, jar packaging exposes the cream to too much light and air, both of which break down antioxidants.
Debra, I couldn’t agree more. Better avoid jars!
How about dropper containers Gio? are they good at keeping antioxidants from going bad?
Momo, they’re definitely better than jar. But I think what people misunderstand is that the oxidation process doesn’t happen overnight. As long as you use the product regularly, rather than just opening it, using it for a while and forgetting about it for months, you’ll be able to finish your dropper containers before anything can seriously spoil.