When it comes to food and beauty products, there’s one thing most people don’t mess around with; expiration dates. That’s because when food or beauty products ‘go bad,’ the mold and bacteria growing in them can make you literally and figuratively sick.
Tossing them when their expiration date passes is only common sense. However, there’s one segment of the health and beauty market where expiration dates don’t apply, and that’s hair products.
Since skin and hair products go on your body rather than in your body, the FDA doesn’t require them to have an expiration date. Does that mean you’re on your own when it comes to figuring out if your mousse, conditioner, hair mask, creams, or shampoo are expired?
Not exactly. In this article, we’ll outline how to identify expired hair products and the potential hair problems they can cause when used beyond their expiry date.
Table of Contents
- 1 Do Hair Products Expire?
- 2 What Is the Shelf Life of Hair Care Products?
- 3 Can You Still Use Expired Hair Products?
- 4 The Period After Opening (PAO) Symbol
- 5 Where You Store Your Hair Products Makes a Difference
- 6 How to Store Hair Products at Home
- 7 How to Track the Expiration Date of a Hair Product
- 8 Deep Clean Your Product Collection
Do Hair Products Expire?
Hair products will eventually expire, although the FDA doesn’t require hair product manufacturers to include a traditional expiration date. Our general rule is to throw away an unopened hair product after 36 months.
Once the product has been opened, we recommend throwing it away within 12 months. Although, using it more quickly would be preferred. Plus, depending on the product type, the expiration date will vary.
What Is the Shelf Life of Hair Care Products?
Several factors affect how long hair care products will last after opening. Here’s a short list of the primary factors:
Unopened On the Shelf
Generally speaking, most hair care and beauty products will stay viable on the shelf, unopened, for 36 months (or 3 years).
However, this general rule of thumb depends on the ingredients within the product. Homemade DIY products (using fresh ingredients) and organic products, however, may not last as long.
Once a hair product has been opened, it will last between 12 to 24 months (or 1 to 2 years). However, we recommend using opened products quickly, preferably within 12 months if possible. Also, keep in mind that contamination of the hair product may reduce its shelf life.
Check the Label
In the last few years, several regulations have been put in place in the beauty products industry. Like the Period After Opening (PAO) mark, that’s indicated by a small container and a number.
For example, 6M, 12M, or 24M indicates whether a hair product lasts 6 months, 12 months, or 24 months.
No Expiration Label?
If the hair product you’re using doesn’t have an expiration label, you can assume that it will last between 12 months and 24 months after it’s been opened. Although this isn’t guaranteed, so used opened hair products quickly. The same 3-year shelf life works if it’s unopened.
The Label Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story of Expired Hair Products
It’s easy to purchase a hair care product and, down the road a bit, forget precisely when you bought it. If that’s the case, and you don’t have an expiration label for help, don’t freak out.
Below are several methods you can use to make sure your product is still usable:
- Appearance: Does the product look like it did when you first purchased it? If it appears that the product’s texture has changed, it’s time to throw it out.
- Smell: Does the product smell the same, or has its odor changed? The fragrance is one of the first things to lose its potency and undergo changes.
- Separation: Has your haircare product separated? Does it look “cloudy” when it used to be transparent? Is it now thick when it used to be thin? Visually checking your hair products is an easy, fast way to determine if they’re still useful.
Here’s the thing, though; if you have a product on your bathroom shelf that’s been open for over a year and you still haven’t used it up, it probably isn’t your favorite product anyway.
Can You Still Use Expired Hair Products?
Haircare products can often be used safely even after their expiration date has passed. Even so, we don’t recommend using products behind their expected expiry date. It makes sense to be more cautious.
The reason why is simple; bacteria. Depending on how the products have been packaged, some beauty products can quickly become contaminated with bacteria, which you don’t want anywhere near your face, skin, or hair.
The Period After Opening (PAO) Symbol
Many skin and makeup brands use a specific mark on their packaging called a Period After Opening (PAO) symbol. The PAO symbol is a graphical indicator that tells you the useful life of a particular product once it’s been opened.
That’s good news, and the even better news is that many haircare brands have started doing the same thing. So, if your product contains the PAO symbol, we recommend following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Finding the PAO Symbol
First, take a close look at the label to find the PAO symbol on your favorite product. On it, you’ll see a small ‘container’ and on that container, the letter “M.”
It’s usually found on the lower right-hand corner of the product’s rear label. Next to the M, which stands for Months, is a number. That number, as you might have guessed, is the number of months the product can be used once it has been opened.
No PAO, Symbol? No problem.
If you can’t find a PAO symbol on your product, don’t stress. You can use most of the same visual and olfactory clues to figure out if a product is still good enough to put on your hair or skin.
- If your aerosols or spray products smell “earthy,” it’s time to toss it.
- Does your conditioner look like oatmeal? Into the trash it goes!
- Something that’s been sitting around for 1, 2, 3 years, or more? File it under “G” for garbage. Let’s be honest; if it were your favorite product, it wouldn’t have been sitting on the shelf for years.
Some Hair Products Last Longer (or Expire Sooner) than Others
While most hair products don’t have an extremely long shelf life, some do. For example, spray products, mousse, and dry shampoos often have longer useful lives.
Most of these come in an aerosol can, protecting them from contamination. For this reason, they can often last quite a bit longer.
On the other hand, hair care products that are exposed to light, heat, air, and human touch or contain water and oils will usually spoil faster.
For example, this includes any products that come in a jar, like creams or gels or products that have high water content. The reasons why include:
- Constant touching transfers bacteria.
- Oils typically become rancid after 1 to 3 years.
- Water is a breeding ground for fungus and mold.
Where You Store Your Hair Products Makes a Difference
Like food, where you store your hair and skin care products makes a difference in their shelf-life. High humidity and exposure to light are the worst storage locations, but, unfortunately, you’ll find both in the typical bathroom.
Frankly, if the product is sitting in your humid, light-filled bathroom, you have two choices: use it relatively quickly or throw it away after it goes bad.
How to Store Hair Products at Home
We recommend storing hair products in a cool, dark, dry location. This opens up several options, including your bathroom cabinets, medical cabinets, or even the refrigerator in some instances.
While putting a fridge in the bathroom is probably a bit much, storing eye cream or certain milk-like hair gels in the refrigerator makes sense.
These hair products are often expensive for one thing, so you want to make sure they don’t spoil. For another, eye cream is usually packaged in glass jars, a breeding ground for bacteria.
Also, if you create homemade DIY products, the frig is often a good option if you’re using fresh ingredients without preservatives. In reality, though, a cool, dark place is best. The fridge can get too cold, depending on your settings.
No matter where they’re stored, make sure you always put lids on tightly and close caps securely. It’s the best way to make sure your hair products last as long as possible!
How to Track the Expiration Date of a Hair Product
- Document the purchase date and open date within your hair journal. If you don’t have a hair journal, read this article to create one.
- Using a piece of tape, document the product’s purchase date and open date.
- If you’d like a technology-based solution, you can use a mobile app like Beauty Keeper to keep track of your expiration dates. Beauty Keeper allows you to quickly look up the lot number of your particular product. Then, you’ll see when (and where) the manufacturer made it and when it’s set to expire. Beauty Keeper uses both the production and “Best Before” dates (encoded by the manufacturer) to send you a reminder when it’s time to replace one of your beauty products.
Deep Clean Your Product Collection
If you’ve got a collection of beauty products sitting all over your bathroom while you’re wondering if they expire or not, it might be time to do a deep clean. It takes a bit of time, but it’s well worth the effort!
- Take out and inspect every product, checking its expiration or PAO symbol (if applicable).
- Check and clean all brushes and other makeup tools.
- Toss anything that looks, smells, or appears to be unusable.
- Does Shampoo Freeze?
- Does Hair Dye Expire if Opened?
- Does Hair Bleach Go Bad?
- Can Conditioner Expire?
Last Words on Expiration Dates
We’ve written detailed guides on the expiration dates of several types of products, including shampoo, hair oil, hairspray, hair gel, hair dye, conditioner, and hair bleach. Check out these guides for a detailed write-up of specific hair products.
Although, it’s important to note that beauty and hair care products do indeed expire. We hope that this article has given you the information you need to determine whether your hair products are still viable or need to go to that great, big salon in the sky!
Kenneth Byrd, with a BS in Accounting and Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has over 15 years of experience and is a recognized authority in hair care. Co-founder of Curl Centric® and Natural Hair Box, Kenneth has dedicated himself to promoting ethical and scientifically-backed hair care practices. Rigorous editorial guidelines, industry recognitions, and features in numerous media outlets evidence his expertise. Kenneth’s commitment to transparency, quality, and empowerment has positioned him as a trusted voice in the field, empowering readers to confidently embrace their natural beauty.