Cold skin care is having a moment, and I'm not talking about the classic Ponds Cold Cream your grandmother swore by (although that's a pretty great vintage skin care product to re-discover, too). For the past couple of years, some people have been relocating their favorite beauty products to the fridge with promises of longer product shelf lives, better absorption, and calmer skin. So in the name of science, I gave the trend a shot, too — with an intrigued perspective, but a touch of skepticism.
While some people claim that refrigerating their products is the beauty secret they swear by, dermatologists and estheticians actually aren't convinced that there are major benefits to be found by stashing your moisturizer next to your almond milk and leftover rosé (who am I kidding... I very rarely have "leftover rosé").
That said, when it comes to beauty and health, I'm a big believer that different approaches work for different people, and I'll give pretty much anything a trial run to see how it works for me. So for three mornings and three nights, I kept my beauty products in my fridge and indulged in some cooling morning and evening skin care routines.
Here's a look at the supposed benefits, my experience with them, and what the experts have to say.
Some people say that cold products are absorbed better by skin.
Honestly, I'm not buying this benefit. During my three-day experiment, I didn't see a huge difference in how my products absorbed, both in terms of how fast my products sunk in or in how my skin looked afterwards. The experts are with me here.
"Products typically absorb better at skin temperature. That's why advanced serums and creams are used at night when blood flow and warmth to the skin is at its greatest," says Patricia McGuire, esthetician at SKIN MATRx IntegratedBeauty Solutions.
This is particularly true for oil-based products, explains master aesthetician Paula Provenzano, regional education manager for natural skincare brand Jurlique. "We do not recommend putting oil-rich products in the fridge — making them cold would hinder absorption," she says.
If you want your products to absorb as well as possible, warm water before you apply is actually a better bet. "Washing your face with lukewarm water helps open pores, which in turn helps the products move through the skin quicker," says board certified dermatologist Dr. Shirley Chi, M.D.
There's also a rumor floating around that keeping products in the fridge means a longer shelf life.
Obviously, my three-day experiment wasn't the gold standard in testing for shelf life, so I'm relying on the experts here — and unfortunately, this isn't a thing, either.
"If the product doesn’t contain preservatives, it won’t have a very long shelf life regardless. Refrigeration does not equal preservation," says Chi. "Unless it is recommended by the manufacturer, refrigeration is not a guarantee of a longer shelf life," adds Provenzano.
At room temp, depending on the product and its ingredients, most are effective for three months to a year once they're opened, says McGuire.
In fact, refrigerating products that aren't designed to stay cold can actually negatively impact products' efficiency and shelf life, both experts say. "Many skin care ingredients can be sensitive to extreme heat or cold. Over time, this can degrade the active ingredients in the formulation or alter the stability of the product. [Plus] if it's not sealed and stored properly, excess moisture and that 'refrigerator smell' can sneak into your product changing its texture, smell and performance," says McGuire. That's not to say that this will happen to every product when refrigerated, but it's definitely risky business.
Granted, there are some exceptions to this rule. "Some products contain live active cultures of probiotics or growth factors. Typically, these will be found in a refrigerated section at time of purchase," says McGuire.
"You should also put products that contain Vitamin C, like La Roche-Posay Active C10, in there as well," adds Chi. "This will help keep the vitamins from breaking down."
One thing I did find to be true: Cold skin care products are definitely calming, and they can also help with puffiness.
Now this one, I can vouch for. I have rosacea, so redness is pretty much my skin's default state. Even if refrigerating products doesn't increase their efficiency or their shelf life, I did feel like cold products were more soothing, and I can attest to a slight decrease in redness after using cold products as opposed to room temp ones (the cold constricts blood cells).
"Keeping creams and eye treatments in the fridge helps with puffiness and also boosts circulation in the area," adds Chi. The cold also made the consistency of several of my products a little creamier, which felt sort of luxe.
There are a couple of caveats here. First, I found that I had to use the products pretty much immediately after taking them out of the fridge. Even letting them sit for five minutes first while I brushed my teeth and washed my face meant they'd already had time to warm up a bit. Also, I had to work quickly during application, because product does warm up under your fingertips as you rub it in, too.
"I put the La Roche-Posay PigmentClar Eyes in the fridge," says Chi. "It has a unique cooling metal applicator that feels super relaxing on the skin." Since you're not using your fingertips, products with metal applicators like that may work better in the fridge as far as soothing capabilities go. She also likes putting face masks in the fridge, which I imagine also feels pretty incredible.
Overall, I think my products are just fine in the cabinet they usually live in.
Using chilled beauty products definitely felt great — I was mainly impressed by my eye cream and all-over moisturizers. But honestly, I'm not sure it's worth it. For one, there's a set of stairs between my bathroom and my refrigerator, which means there's effort involved (and I'm not into that first thing in the morning or at the end of the day). The results weren't impressive enough for me to risk the integrity of my products by keeping them at a cold temp, too.
And if I were still living in my teeny NYC apartment with roommates, there's no chance I could've sacrificed precious square millimeters in our small shared fridge to keep my products cold. Even now, they still took up a decent amount of space.
The experts are with me on this conclusion, too. "It certainly feels refreshing when spritzing cool toners on a hot, dry day or applying chilled eye creams when eyes feel a bit puffy, but overall, those benefits are just temporary," says McGuire. "Additionally, I can’t help but consider the fact that if someone has to remember to go to the kitchen every time they clean their skin, they may become lax at using the product… out of site, out of mind." Fair enough.
In general, she recommends storing products in a cool, dark place out of direct sunlight — like the trusty cabinet in my mirror, where they're back now, safe and sound and perfectly room temperature.