Whether it’s coconut oil, almond oil, olive oil, or lemon oil – with an explosion of interest in oils from culinary backgrounds, it can sometimes feel like modern hair care has you just as prepared to make a salad as you are to preserve and treat your hair follicles.
However, this revival of interest in carrier oils and essential oils for hair care purposes has generated several questions about how long these beauty products last.
For example, does hair oil expire? How can you identify hair oils that are beyond their expiry date? Are there potential problems for your hair, scalp, or other consequences for using hair oils beyond their shelf life?
As a general rule, most hair products can last for about three years unopened, whereas once you open the product and start using it, the shelf life is often shortened to one to two years.
Making things even more difficult is that, unlike food products, the FDA does not require expiration dates on hair products (or other beauty products).
As much as you might love your all-natural beauty products, this also means that it may be harder to tell when certain hair products have exceeded their shelf life.
For example, determining when a coconut oil hair serum or hair mask has gone bad is more difficult than identifying expired coconut milk. The milk would clearly indicate an expiration date on the product’s packaging, whereas the hair mask may not.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at hair oils and how to determine their expiry date.
We’ll also determine when they’re “best used by” and how you can tell when your favorite beauty products are starting to go bad.
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Does Hair Oil Expire? Different Oils, Different Standards
Hair oils, like all hair products, expire after a period of time. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t require beauty products to include an expiration date. If the hair product does include an expiration, then you should always follow the manufacturer’s advice.
However, if there isn’t an expiration date included on the product, our general rule of thumb is to throw out an unopened hair product after 36 months. Once opened, we recommend using the product within 12 months, or sooner when possible.
Keep in mind that this advice is highly dependent on the ingredients within the product. It’s also important to note that DIY shampoo and conditioner recipes need to be used quickly. We generally recommend tossing DIY products within 2 months. Furthermore, different oils will have different standards.
For example, coconut oil has an average shelf life of roughly two years, though this is highly contingent on the conditions in which you store it. As we’ll see later on, the more light and heat you introduce into the equation, the faster hair oils tend to spoil, so stick to recommended temperature storage conditions whenever possible.
In fact, in the right conditions, you may be able to double the shelf life of certain hair products, but this is in turn contingent upon how long you keep the product unopened.
Coconut oil does best at or below 74 degrees Fahrenheit. As coconut oil gets hotter than 74 degrees Fahrenheit, it starts to liquify. Also, storage in a BPA container can allow for chemical leaching, so avoid BPA containers whenever possible.
By contrast, let’s take a quick look at how other hair oils compare on longevity:
- Almond oil can last between six months to a year, with sweet varieties often doing best.
- Avocado oil can last for up to a year on its own or 18 months when refined.
- Babassu oil can last two years at room temperature and can sometimes be used as a replacement for coconut oil.
- Castor oil tends to be best when used within a year.
- Grapeseed oil can last a year if refrigerated and may spoil sooner otherwise.
- Jojoba oil can last up to five years but comes with the asterisk of not actually being an oil but a liquid wax instead.
- Meadowfoam seed oil can likewise last an impressive five years.
- Pomegranate seed oil can only typically last about one year.
- Rosehip oil is versatile but shorter-lived than many of these oils, lasting only about six months.
- Sea buckthorn seed oil can last up to a year.
- Sunflower seed oil is another highly versatile carrier oil that can last up to a year.
- Tamanu oil lasts between one and two years, depending on storage conditions.
As you can see, there is a fair amount of variety among these products. Knowing which hair oil you are dealing with can go a long way toward ensuring that you get the most out of it, and that includes increasing its longevity.
Just keep in mind that custom DIY recipes, which are common within the haircare community, change these expiration dates significantly. DIY products are more likely to be exposed to bacteria, contamination, air particles, and more.
When Good Hair Products Go Bad
Lovely as the all-natural life may be, it doesn’t spare you from the consequences that can come from using hair products that have gone bad.
What’s more, without the best by dates that accompany food products, if you aren’t careful, you could wind up accidentally using expired hair oils, and that can come with some pretty bad consequences.
But before we get to those, we should first review how you can tell if the hair oil you have is expired even if it doesn’t include an expiry date.
There are several methods for identifying expired hair oil, not the least of which being foul odor. After all, one of the most pleasing aspects of using many of the all-natural oils mentioned above is that a fine fresh fragrance accompanies them.
There’s nothing like the summery scent of citrus or tropical aroma of coconut – and nothing wrinkles the nose faster than the rancidly sour stink that emanates from once-good oils gone bad.
This is especially true of coconut oil, which can also turn yellow when spoiled. Different hair oils will likely turn different hues atypical of their natural state when they go bad.
Also, hair oil that has gone bad will often acquire chunkier consistency. Think about how your hair oil usually looks and feels when it comes out of the bottle. If it is fresh, chances are it slips out in a nice, smooth stream.
By contrast, your hair oil probably doesn’t look, feel, or smell like cottage cheese gone bad. If it does, or if it is chunkier, stickier, or otherwise has suffered a drastic change, that’s a pretty clear sign that it is past its natural best by date. Trust your instincts (i.e., natural concern) and throw-out the product.
You should never use anything on your hair or scalp that isn’t immediately identifiable. That means that if something is floating in your hair oil that you cannot identify, you probably shouldn’t go rubbing it into your hair follicles or scalp.
One of the most prevalent examples of this is the presence of “little black spots” in hair oils, which may indicate mold, bacteria, or contamination – definitely not something you want to inhale or use on your hair and scalp.
In addition, hair products that have gone bad often experience a drop off in production.
Just as milk that has gone bad loses its natural taste, hair oil that has gone bad will often lose its ability to soften, hydrate, and otherwise treat and improve your hair.
If your hair product no longer performs as it once did, chances are it’s time to junk it.
The same holds true if your hair oil is leaking through the packaging. Remember how above we noted that coconut oil could start to liquefy once it goes bad?
This and other factors can lead to leakage and thus indicate that the product is expired.
Finally, hair oil that has expired can irritate your scalp. Of course, one of the benefits of all-natural hair products is supposed to be that they are gentler on your scalp and hair than harsher, more chemical-based beauty products.
So if your scalp is starting to become irritated by hair oil that used to be fine, there’s a chance that it may be expired.
Why Hair Oil Goes Bad and its Consequences
There are several reasons why hair oil may go bad, chief among them being poor storage conditions. Too much light, heat, water, or cold can cause the delicate oils to spoil. Opening the packaging also winds the clock forward on any perishable product’s shelf life, hair oil included.
Is it bad to use expired hair oil? Using hair oil that has spoiled isn’t harmless. For one thing, it’s hard to classify an odiferous lumpen sickly-looking sticky mess as a “beauty” product, and that’s precisely what you’re left with when good hair oil goes bad.
Even more seriously, there’s evidence that spoiled hair oil may be hazardous to your health. A study published in a 2008 edition of the Journal of Oleo Science found that rancid natural oils can indeed be toxic.
While this study focused on consuming natural oils rather than their use as beauty products, it’s safe to say it isn’t safe to use potentially-toxic rancid hair oil for either purpose.
At their best, hair oils represent a diverse, organic, and potentially reinvigorating way of revitalizing your hair. At their worst, however, they can sour into foul-smelling spoiled messes that can ruin your hair and contain toxic elements.
That being said, as long as you take the time to store your hair oils properly, are mindful of how long they typically last, and watch out for signs of expiration, they can still be soothing and exciting game-changers in your hair care routine.