Let’s Talk About Batch Codes.

Look.  I buy a lot on line.  Most of my clothing and many of my cosmetics.  Generally, when I buy makeup I buy directly from the sellers website, from a pro site like Camera Ready Cosmetics, or from a place that has convenient return locations like Sephora.com.  But sometimes for my more basic skincare needs I just opt to use my Amazon Prime account.

Now, I love my Amazon, and I love getting things in two days, but I feel taken advantage of after my last order came.  Now, I do have faith that Amazon customer service will be good to me, and I understand that Amazon is a complicated world where sometimes it is easy to have your products coming from places you didn’t expect, but that is why it is important to be proactive and look out for yourself.

When I got my package there was an immediate red flag.  The package looked a little beat up and said “New” on it, when I knew the product had been around for a decent while… DIVERSION!, my heart yelled!  And as all the horror stories beauty professionals hear about people dumpster diving to obtain and sell old product, sometimes changing the products composition by adding water or even more questionable substances.  But I kept it cool, because I knew the logical next step which is…

Checking the batch code

I highly recommend checking batch codes on products you buy, especially if you feel like you really scored a deal at one of those stores that buys last seasons clothes and sells them at a super cheap price.  And you know what, some of the products under your sink that you’ve had for awhile, it really wouldn’t hurt to see how old they are.  I’m not saying you need to throw out everything that’s expired… but wouldn’t you rather know?

So when you look at the bottle there is usually a barcode somewhere and then an area where the company lists all the company information (address, website, etc.) with some random numbers.  Neither of these are the batch code.

The batch code is between 3 and 11 numbers (sometimes letters) and is usually either located near the barcode, near the company information, or on the bottom.  The way you can tell it is the batch code is that it looks like it was stamped on after the packaging was made.  The other numbers are part of the packaging.

They look like this:

or this:

or sometimes this:

All these pictures are from CheckFresh.com, which brings me to the next point: what to do with batch numbers.  Go to Check Fresh, or other sites (Google “Check Batch Code” and you will find some).  Check Fresh will have more examples of what to look like if you aren’t sure where the code is, and then you can select the manufacturer from the drop down menu and it will tell you what the batch code means.

Don’t try to figure it out yourself unless you know first hand about how batch codes work for that specific company.  It’s really complicated and convoluted, and every company does it in a very strange and different way.

In some cases you may need to find the “parent company.”  For example, when I was checking my Philosophy products, I couldn’t select “Philosophy” from the drop down menu, so I looked up who they are owned by and sure enough, “Coty” was on the drop down menu.

Looked REALLY hard and can’t find a batch code?  Run!  In some cases of diversion, batch codes are scratched off.  To me, if the product is trying that hard to conceal its age, it is probably much, much older than it looks.  And probably smells funny too.

So now you have the date the product was made, so what?

Different types of products have different shelf lives.  Some will have a label for how long they last after opening, which is called the PAO (period after opening).  It looks like this:

The FDA doesn’t have any specific requirements for how old is too old.  They leave it up to the manufacturers.

Generally cosmetic companies print an expiration date if the product is expected to expire within 30 months (2.5 years), so if the batch code is within a couple years you are probably good.  You can always contact customer care if you want to know about your specific product’s shelf life or PAO.  (But who has time for that?)

If you ask CheckCosmetic.net, another good batch code site, about PAO, they say that generally:

Perfumes, perfume, edp – up to 3 years;
Powders (including blush, eyeshadows powdery texture) – 1 to 3 years;
Foundation in a jar or a cream powder – 1 to 3 years;
Liquid tone means (in tubes or jars with dispenser) – 1 year;
Nail polish – 1 year;
Sun cosmetics – 1 year (but no more than one season);
Lipstick, lip gloss – 1 year;
Pencil (Eye, Lip) – about 1 year;
Skin care products (hydrating cosmetics, wrinkle, eye contour) in a sealed packet with the pump – about a year, in a jar – from 6 to 10 months;
Solid eyeliner and eyebrow pencil – from 6 to 8 months;
Bronzing – 6 months;
Mascara – 3-6 months;
Liquid eyeliner – from 3 to 4 months;
Natural/Organic products – up to 6 months.

This is fairly standard but some will say that powders can last longer.  General rule is once you notice a change in the product it is probably bad.  For example, the texture of a foundation getting really clumpy or a funky smell in your skin cream.

But this is for how long after opening.  If it is a new product that you’ve never tried before and so you don’t really know the texture it is supposed to be… use your judgement.  I mean no matter what use your judgement.  Don’t listen to me!  Use your senses and see if it feels ok.  But if you ask me, buying something new that was made five years ago, it probably isn’t going to work as well and may be full of bacteria and other nasty stuff, so watch out!  I think 3-4 years for skin care is grey area but a lot of cautious people would say to throw it out!

Also think about the type of product.  Some say powders can be relatively fresh for 5+ years, where foundations and skin creams would ideally have been made within 2-3 years.  Mascara?  I probably wouldn’t touch it if it was made over 2 years ago.  It’s in your EYES every day!  Gross.

Too lazy to check batch codes, but don’t want to use rancid products?

I’ve probably made all this sound like a lot of work.  Too much hassle?  That’s fine.  Buy from trustworthy sources and you don’t have to worry about it.  For hair (and usually makeup and skin care), buy from local salons and beauty stores you trust.  Places that specialize in beauty and take pride in their reputation.  Target is great for a lot of things, but I have seen diverted haircare there.  CVS or other pharmacies?  Some are probably squeaky clean on this, but I have seen some pretty old looking product at some of these places.Everything I’ve said should be combined with your own common sense.  Don’t just trust random online suppliers.  Use old product if you want to (yes, I’m talking to YOU middle-aged woman who stockpiled 10 years worth of foundation and/or lipstick when you found that your shade would be discontinued).  Just understand that old product will, best case scenario, not perform as well as intended, and worst case scenario, be full of bacteria or even be toxic to the skin.

Inspiration: For Hair, From Lives

To break up all these “this is what I’ve been up to” posts, I just wanted to take the time to type up something a little more introspective.  Sometimes it feels like one topic keeps popping up or like I keep talking (maybe too much?) about a given issue and I get really pumped about it!  Lately, I have had a TON of educational opportunities which I have taken advantage of from many different lines, including: Sebastian, Nioxin, Sassoon, R+Co and Oribe.  Now for me, classes are not about inspiration, they are about technique.  As I said recently on the Hairbrained forums, I see so many incredible hair pictures everyday from all of my different sources that I am almost immune to their charm.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the imagery and believe it pushes me to get better and better technically, but it doesn’t usually generate a true feeling of inspiration.  At least, it’s pretty rare.

See, I have always had two competing drives within me.  I have always been a sort of creative free spirit on the one hand and then a total nerd on the other hand.  Classes and hair photos mostly appeal to the nerd in me and I am prone to breaking things down into very formulaic and almost mechanical functions.  This is the part of me that takes comfort in order, in things making sense.  I look at a photo and I see where if the hair were one centimeter higher it would change the proportions of the image, how the shapes could maximize their impact.  In classes I am always wondering, “Why?” and “Could this be done in a better, more efficient way?” and “How would a small change in technique change the final outcome?”

But the other side, that is the side that makes me really love my job.  Yet it is the part of me that is easier to ignore, since it is often hard to know what it needs to thrive.  Throughout my travels it has been the people, the architecture, the art, the subway stations, the weather, the trees of every shape and color, the rivers and lakes and harbors.  It is the people I meet who are very nice, and the ones who can be quite nasty, too.  It’s the artsy youth of Toronto that somehow look so much more British than the alternative kids in the US (they seem to have a better sense of balance and aesthetics).  It’s the way people from the UK say “cool” like it means something.  It almost gives me chills.  It’s the way the vibe of the bar changes when the woman in the corner stops screaming at the pinball machine.  Or when a different song comes on.  It’s how when driving for 8 hours straight you feel a difference in the steering wheel from one CD to the next.  It’s how you go so long between showers you see what your hair really looks like.  It’s seeing a four year old tumbling in the grass near Boston Harbor, trying to compete with the street performers.  It’s stopping at rest stops in Central PA in black denim and black leather and black shades while everyone else is wearing sweatshirts from wherever they came from.  It’s going to shows and seeing the swing of the hair while everyone is dancing in their own little worlds. It’s those friends you have who always twist the same section of hair around a finger when they’re nervous.   It’s seeing a friend in the hospital and her hair is  cascading so perfectly it’s hard to remember she’s so sick.

Advice on Advice

Hello everyone, today I’m going to talk about ADVICE. Both related to and unrelated to the beauty industry, I have both received a lot of advice and been asked for advice numerous times. Well, here is some advice on how to sift through the mounds and mounds of advice out there.

1. Don’t listen to everyone. When offered advice examine the advice giver’s personality and see if it is like yours in the relevant ways. For example, if they talk to you about a lot of aggressive tactics you can try to become more successful, and you are a more passive person, see if you can find a nugget of helpfulness in their advice but for the most part just leave it. Better to be the best version of yourself than a mediocre version of someone else.

2. Beware of advice that stems from anything negative. It doesn’t mean not to listen but if someone had a bad experience, evaluate how likely you are to have the same experience and put their advice in context.

3. Don’t over share advice. It can be annoying and rude. I recommend only giving advice when asked for it but that is a little extreme and old fashioned. Give advice as rarely as possible and people will listen to what advice you do give more.

4. Don’t give advice in the form of a complaint, including on Facebook if you have business connections on there. Cool down or text a friend instead. No one likes passive aggressive advice.

5. Try not to think in black and white when it comes to advice. Something isn’t necessarily just either right or wrong, it could be somewhere in the middle.

6. Have your own thoughts, objectives and opinions and you will be able to ask more questions and challenge advice in such a way that when people give you advice they know you a little better and thus give better advice.

Anti-Fashion vs. Fashion on ‘What Not To Wear’

As some of you may know, I am a huge fan of TLC’s What Not to Wear. Today I watched an episode some who follow the show may remember, with the beautiful and talented Beryl. As an Asian female with many Asian friends, as well as someone approximately her age, a lot of her fashion choices before the makeover really resonated with me. At first I was shocked to see her on the show because there was honestly nothing alarming to me about her monochromatic wardrobe with ripped jeans and oversized men’s clothing. In Pittsburgh, we call them hipsters. The term is vague and everyone has a different definition, but in this case, the idea is to look like you just rolled out of bed (or that you sleep on a sidewalk).

It is not unlike nineties grunge, and I admit to having some love for the disheveled look. In Berlin, I was truly intoxicated by the cold, distant persona of pretending you don’t care. And yet, clothing does get in your head and I think people are lying to themselves if they don’t feel even a little bit like an angsty teen when wearing ill-fitting jeans, combat boots and a dirty, oversized button up. And it is exhilarating, especially when driving around town with a scowl, blasting Nirvana. There is immediate pleasure in not caring, yet you can feel yourself judging more and people can feel the judgment oozing out your pores. When I am buying my cute little dresses from Urban Outfitters, I can tell the sixteen year olds won’t step within a yard of me. In fact, they look a little afraid.

If I somehow end up at work dressed too grungey, the clients are afraid. It is hard to open up and be a burst of positive energy AND look like you don’t care.

It is interesting for me to look at why anti-fashion would be so popular. I remember my siblings, who came of age in the 1990s, rather than the 2000s, had similar trends. My parents lived in the time of hippies. We can even look at the flappers as a sort of anti-fashion movement. So I suppose the issue isn’t particular to us. Is it more popular than it has been in the past? I would have to research, but I would guess no.

But to see Beryl on What Not to Wear was alarming. She is a gorgeous woman who, frankly, could model if she ever wanted to… she’s that stunning and unique. It was symbolic in a way, fashion and anti-fashion going head to head. And in a way, it was frightening to me, because a key part of the grungey hipster look is that it creates a private club, it is meant to cut you off from society and create a private club where you are free to “be yourself.” A lot of the people on What Not to Wear are truly bizarre, but in this way it made hipsters most similar to the tired mothers who put themselves last and try to blend in. I figured, if you leave them in certain neighborhoods and around college campuses, hipsters blend in perfectly.

But what most people don’t realize is that anti-fashion can be a way of succumbing to insecurity. A lot of people feel that the fashion industry is not for them. They decide that there are beautiful, fashionable women, and there are others. A lot of the grungiest people I know are extremely intelligent, and always have been. They want that disheveled intellectual look. I grew up feeling fairly ambivalent towards fashion, caring much more about my studies. My love for art led to a love of hair and then to a love of beauty, but there are plenty of people who never find that connection. We all get hair cuts and wear clothes, so why do so many feel like the beauty and fashion industry is not accessible to them. In our modern world, we don’t have to choose between smart and beautiful, we can try for both and be fearless about it.

I have always known that dressing well instantly puts me in a better mood. But on emotional days, there is an undeniable, dysfunctional satisfaction in dressing purposely badly. And it isn’t that it is bad, but it is an easy way out. And a way that does not address or deal with issues in the least. And it isn’t that you can’t be a vibrant and happy person when you look like you just rolled out of a dumpster, but it certainly isn’t as easy.

(To be continued.)