How To Know Your Hair Products Have Expired

I confess! I'm guilty. Guilty of hanging on to my hair products past their expiration date. When I started my relaxed hair journey I started going through the hair products I wanted to keep and toss. Boy did I find a few surprises!

I found a shampoo that had been sitting in my bathroom cabinet for almost two years! The kicker is, the bottle was still full, but had been opened. I had used the shampoo a couple of times and then stopped for what reason I couldn't recall.

Additionally, I had some hair serums and oils that were older than I could remember. Same with a moisturizer and hair grease. Seeing how old these products were I got curious about whether or not I should still be using them on my relaxed hair or if I should toss them.

Old hair products that have expired sitting in a trash bag.
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From my research, I found some surprising things about how long hair care products last and how you can tell when it's time to toss them.

Most hair products have a common expiration symbol on them. The symbol is typically located on the bottom backside of the product and is of a small jar or container. Within the symbol, it will have some numbers (e.g. 12m, 18m, 24m). Those numbers indicate how many months you can use the product after opening it. The number of months will vary by product.

expiration dates on the back of hair product bottles.

While the expiration symbol is a good starting point, it's not something I would completely rely on for a few reasons. One, you don't always know how long the product had been sitting on the store shelf before you bought it. Two, you may not remember how long the product had been sitting on your shelf before you started using it (that happens to me quite a bit). Three, not all hair products have an expiration date listed. It's not something required by the FDA.

Using an expired product on your hair isn't the end of the world but it's not a good thing. You will probably notice the product isn't working for your hair like it used to. An expired hair product will be less effective. Also, depending on the type of product it could give you a bacterial infection if it's way past the expiration date.

What makes a hair product go bad

  • The formula breaks down when it is exposed to the air
  • Lack of preservatives. DIY hair products and some natural ones don't have preservatives which help the product last longer
  • Exposure to moisture. This can happen on purpose or by accident if the product is used and/or kept in the shower
  • The products have been exposed to bacteria from coming into contact with your skin multiple times
  • Constant exposure to direct sunlight

How to know when a hair product has gone bad

  • Smell: The may smell bad or smell differently than it normally does
  • Consistency: You notice a change in how the product feels. It could be runny or have hardened
  • Color: The color has changed. Clear products may start to look cloudy, the product may look lighter or darker than normal
  • Separation: It could look more cloudy or the oils in the product are sitting at the top and you need to mix it to look "normal"
  • Expiration date: If you remember when bought and started using the product the expiration date can help you know if you're teetering on the edge of expiration or already there

The typical shelf life for hair products

As a general rule of thumb unopened, tightly sealed hair products can last up to 36 months or 3 years. Opened products can last 12-24 months in certain conditions. Below are some more specific shelf lives for common hair products
  • 24 months for butters
  • 18 months for non-natural shampoos and conditioner (with lots of preservatives)
  • 12 months for natural shampoos and conditioners (without lots of preservatives)
  • 6 months for oils

How to keep your hair products in good shape

There are a few things you can do to extend the shelf life of your hair products 
  • Store them in a cool, dark, dry place like your bathroom cabinet or a closet. You want them away from direct sunlight and water. So don't keep them in the shower
  • Avoid getting water in the products as the water can contaminate them and speed up expiration. So when using the shower don't put your wet hands/fingers in the container. Put some product in another container or dry your hands
  • Keep the tops of your products tightly closed. This will keep air from getting in and messing with the formula

Have you ever tried using a hair product that had gone bad?