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Do Hair Products Expire: How to Tell and What to Do

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Table of Contents

Do hair products expire? How to know

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In the realm of food, we’re usually diligent about checking the expiration dates on items like milk or yogurt. But what about your hair care products? Yes, they too have a shelf life, and using them past their prime could actually harm your hair rather than help them.

If you’ve been staring at that shampoo bottle or conditioner in your shower, wondering how long it’s been there, it might be time for a check—or even a toss.

In this article, we’ll guide you through identifying the signs that your hair care products have reached their expiration date and offer suggestions on what to do once they have. To provide the most accurate and expert advice on this topic, I’ve reached out to a friend who is not only a seasoned hair scientist and cosmetic formulator but also holds a PhD in Chemistry. His extensive knowledge and expertise in the field make them the perfect resource to shed light on how to recognize and handle expired hair care products effectively.

When Do Hair Products Expire?

Discovering a bathroom cabinet full of forgotten hair and beauty products is a common experience for many of us. The thrill of buying new products often overshadows the crucial task of tracking their shelf life. But how long should you actually keep these items before they lose effectiveness or even become harmful?

In most cases, once you open a cosmetic product, its shelf life tends to be shorter compared to unopened ones. This is because when you open a shampoo bottle, for example, the product becomes exposed to bacteria and oxygen, which gradually leads to its deterioration.

The term “Threshold Time” refers to the duration within which a product remains safe and effective, without the risk of microbial growth that could pose a hazard to the consumer or impair the product’s performance.1

This can vary widely depending on the product type, from hair masks and conditioners to expired shampoo and styling gels. Always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for the most accurate information.

Understanding Shelf Life

As a rule of thumb, most hair products can last up to three years. However, for non-aerosol and non-spray products, the initial 3-year shelf life is reduced to 18 months once the products have been opened.

Furthermore, the number of months can be significantly fewer for organic products or all-natural hair products. Hair masks, conditioners, and shampoos may expire sooner than styling creams and gels.

Risks of Expired Products

Using expired products, such as expired shampoo, isn’t just ineffective; it can also be unsafe. The majority of beauty products, including those for hair, contain water as a primary ingredient. This creates fertile grounds for bacteria, fungi, and mold to grow. The longer a product like shampoo sits unused, the greater the risk for microbial contamination, potentially leading to scalp issues or even skin infections.

How Shelf Life is Determined

Though the Federal Drug Administration doesn’t require beauty products to have expiration dates, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their safety.2

Shelf life is usually determined through meticulous testing, where the product is exposed to microbes under controlled conditions. The data collected, often expressed in terms of the number of months, helps establish when a product should ideally be used.

The Best Way to Track Product Shelf Life

The first thing you should do after purchasing new beauty products is to note the date. Keep tabs on how long you’ve had each item and be prepared to toss it once it’s reached its estimated shelf life.

In conclusion, monitoring the shelf life of your beauty and hair products is a simple yet crucial step in maintaining both their effectiveness and your safety.

According to the FDA, there are no U.S. laws or regulations that require cosmetics to have specific shelf lives or have expiration dates on their labels. However, manufacturers are responsible for making sure their products are safe.2

The FDA says that under the law, some of the products commonly referred to as personal care products are cosmetics. These include, for example, skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, nail polishes, eye and facial makeup, shampoos, toothpaste, deodorants, etc.

FDA.gov

Understanding Expiration Dates on Hair Products

Check the Label

When purchasing hair care items, always check for an expiration date on the packaging. This information is often located on the bottom or back of the product.

Shelf Life of Unopened Products

Generally speaking, the shelf life of hair products is approximately 36 months when unopened. When making a purchase, it’s a good idea to opt for products that are recently manufactured or have at least two years remaining until their expiration date.

Dangers of Using Expired Products

Absolutely avoid buying or using expired products, even if they appear fine. These items can harbor microbial growth, invisible to the naked eye, that can be harmful to your skin or scalp and potentially cause dermatological issues.

Decoding the PAO Symbol

If there’s no visible expiration date, look for a Period-After-Opening (PAO) symbol on the packaging. This symbol indicates the number of months the product remains effective after being opened. For instance, a “12M” next to the PAO symbol means the product is good for 12 months post-opening.

What to Do When Neither Exists

If you find that your hair care product lacks both an expiration date and a PAO symbol, the safest course of action is to discard it 12 months after opening. Keep an eye out for telltale signs of expiry like changes in color, texture, or scent as additional indicators.

By following these guidelines, you not only safeguard the health of your scalp and hair but also ensure you’re getting the most out of your beauty products.

How Do You Know Your Hair Products Have Expired?

Expired products may show signs of expiry. These signs are simple, however, most of the time consumers ignore or don’t pay attention to them, because of the closed container.

Mal-odor

The smell is the first sign that your hair product is expired or contaminated. Don’t use it any further. Do not pass go! Do not collect $200! We recommend throwing it out. Microbes start eating chemicals, and their biochemical process generates bad smells or gases.

Discoloration

A change in product color is yet another sign of expiry. Solar radiation, temperature, and microbes can alter the original color of the hair product.

Separation

The product losing its original texture, loss in viscosity, or complete separation (in terms of creams, and lotions) indicates the product’s health. Don’t use the separated or altered product.

How to Properly Store Hair Products at Home

Store in a Cool, Dark Place

The location where you store your hair products can significantly impact their shelf life. Products like shampoos and conditioners should ideally be stored in a cool place to extend their longevity. Keep in mind that some products may have a shorter shelf life and storing them properly is crucial for maintaining their effectiveness.

Do not store it in the bathroom, if possible. The heat can change the product’s color or texture. Don’t leave your hair products open: If you do not do this intentionally, do not do it accidentally. Leaving the container open is an invitation to microbial growth. Always close the lid tightly!

Sunlight Exposure

Please never expose the product to direct sunlight radiation for a prolonged period. Solar radiation may heat it and trigger undesirable photochemical changes.

Before Using a Product

Before using, wash your hands to make sure they are free from any microbes and do not pose a threat to the product itself.

What Do You Do With Expired Hair Products?

If you find a product that has already gone past its expiry date, just throw it away. However, sometimes people do try to squeeze a few more uses out of an expired product, which can be risky.

Consider cleaning out your product cabinet and tossing the product if you experience any of these signs:

  • itching or burning of the skin and/or scalp (irritation)
  • flaking, redness, and swelling on the scalp
  • hair loss

If you experience any of these symptoms, stop using the product immediately and discard it.

Are There Any Natural Ways to Keep Your Products Fresh?

There are a few natural ways to help keep your hair products fresh or make them last longer. One way is to store them in the fridge. This will help to keep them cool and delay any changes in color or texture.

Another way is to store them in a dark, dry place. The darkness will also help to keep them from changing color or texture.

FAQs

Do dry shampoos have an expiry date?

The shelf life of dry shampoo varies by brand, usually ranging from 1 to 3 years unopened. Once opened, aim to use it within 6 to 12 months. Check the packaging for specific expiration details to ensure the product’s effectiveness and safety.

Do hair products expire if they are never opened?

Yes! Even if a product has been never opened, it will have an expiration date.

Can expired hair products cause hair loss?

Yes, it is possible for expired hair products to cause hair loss. If you are experiencing hair loss after using an expired product, stop using it, discard it, and see a professional.

Can hair oil expire or is it okay to use expired hair oil?

Yes, hair oil can expire and no, it is not okay to use expired hair oil. If you are using an expired hair oil, stop using it and discard it. See a professional if you are experiencing any negative side effects.

Can I freeze my hair products to make them last longer?

Yes, it is possible to freeze your hair products. This will keep them cool and they won’t change color or texture as fast.

Do hair spray products expire?

Yes, hair sprays do expire.

Can I reuse my hair product container?

Yes, you can reuse your hair product container. However, make sure to clean it thoroughly before putting any new product in it.

What happens if you use expired hair products?

If you use expired hair products, you may not get the results you were hoping for. The product may not work as well as it did when it was new, and it could even damage your hair.

You may also experience some adverse reactions such as an itchy scalp, redness, or even hair loss. So it’s generally not a good idea to use expired hair products.

Does hair gel expire?

Check the product’s label to see if it states how long it will last. In general, hair gel has a shelf life of about three years. After that, it starts to break down and can cause hair to become brittle and dry.

So, if you’ve been holding onto that bottle of hair gel for a few years, it’s probably time to let it go.

Of course, some people might say that hair gel never really expires; it just gets harder and harder to use as it gets older.

Can natural ingredients in hair products expire?

Yes, natural ingredients in hair products can expire and often have a shorter shelf life compared to synthetic products. Organic or natural formulations may lack the preservatives that extend the life of conventional products, making them more susceptible to spoilage and microbial growth. Always check expiration dates and storage recommendations to ensure you’re using safe and effective products.


References

  1.  Yang, C., Barlow, S. M., Muldoon Jacobs, K. L., Vitcheva, V., Boobis, A. R., Felter, S. P., Arvidson, K. B., Keller, D., Cronin, M. T. D., Enoch, S., Worth, A., & Hollnagel, H. M. (2017). Thresholds of Toxicological Concern for cosmetics-related substances: New database, thresholds, and enrichment of chemical space. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 109, 170–193. ↩︎
  2. Nutrition, C. for F. S. and A. (2022, March 4). Shelf life and expiration dating of cosmetics. FDA. ↩︎

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