Advertising is often an exercise in taking sweet lies as sweetly as possible. Everyone likes to see themselves in the best possible light, and commercials and ads are glad to offer rose-tinted glasses through which to see ourselves and our hair products.
Chief among these are shampoo commercials. We’ve all seen the models in these commercials improbably glamorous and impossibly happy while lathering their hair with the latest finely-scented scintillating shampoo and conditioner.
However, in those commercials, something you never see is shampoo products that have turned into a hardened blob gumming up someone’s hair, leaving it looking and smelling like skid marks on the inside of a sewer pipe.
That’s the sight (and smell) that may come to mind when you think of expired shampoo.
We all know what milk looks and smells like when it goes bad, but what happens when good shampoo goes bad – and just how likely is that, anyway?
Let’s “milk” this question a bit more and see secrets your shampoo bottle may be hiding and how you can avoid the mother of all bad hair days.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Shelf Life of Hair Shampoo
- 2 How Long Does Shampoo Last Before It Expires?
- 3 Is Expired Shampoo Bad for Your Hair? Is It Dangerous?
- 4 How Can You Make Shampoo Last Longer?
The Shelf Life of Hair Shampoo
The shelf life or expiration date of a bottle of shampoo, similar to other hair care products, is directly connected to the hair product’s ingredients.
The Expiration Date Depends on the Product’s Ingredients
A bottle of shampoo can contain many different ingredients, including the following:
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, sometimes written as SLS, is a surfactant, which means this is a cleaning agent. This chemical compound is partly responsible for the foamy nature of your soap lather, but it can also strip away essential oils from your scalp and irritate your skin.
Also, they can sometimes be harsh enough to cause your hair color to fade. Many people avoid sulfate shampoos altogether due to concerns around hair loss and breakage.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which is closely related to SLS, is often gentler and less prone to causing irritation.
Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB)
Cocamidopropyl Betaine is a gentler version of SLS and Sodium Laureth Sulfate.
Dimethicone (or Polydimethylsiloxane)
Dimethicone is a silicone polymer that can help smooth your hair.
Panthenol (or Pantothenol)
Panthenol, which is an example of Vitamin B5, is essential for moisturizing and conditioning your hair.
Parabens (preservatives) such as methylparaben, ethylparaben, and butylparaben can help prevent mold and bacterial growth but can also have estrogen-like effects.
When used in excessive amounts, these parabens can lead to cancer. However, Parabens’ estrogen-like effects tend to be even weaker than those of soy, which itself is nowhere near enough to cause you any harm.
Zinc Pyrithione (or Pyrithione Zinc)
Zinc Pyrithione can help combat dandruff, slowing skin cell production and flaking.
In addition, shampoos can often include extra ingredients such as citric acid or essential oils that are common in everyday life and can help your hair in various ways, from making it smoother and softer to soothing your scalp to stimulating growth.
While the public often views ingredients such as SLS as toxic, studies have shown it to be within the acceptable range of toxicity for safe human use.
What SLS and these other ingredients are not, however, is immortal. They and the mixtures within shampoo can break down over time, meaning that yes, shampoos can go bad and expire.
How Long Does Shampoo Last Before It Expires?
Take a look at your shampoo bottle or any other personal care products you own. Do you see a marking that says “12M” or “24M?” If so, then that probably means what you may already be inclined to think it means – that your shampoo can last for 12 or 24 months before it goes bad.
Does shampoo expire?
Shampoos are typically marked as lasting for 12, 18, or 24 months. However, a bottle’s shelf life can be increased if it is not opened since opening it is a big part of what causes the spoilage process to begin.
An unopened bottle can stay good for three years, whereas the expiry clock speeds up dramatically once you open it, often cutting the expiration date in half to probably 18 months on the outside of the range.
Is Expired Shampoo Bad for Your Hair? Is It Dangerous?
This question may not be as easy to answer as you might think. On the one hand, you may be inclined to think that it’s “just shampoo” and that in the absence of any “Best Used By” date, it can’t do too much harm to your body if you use it when it’s just a “little” expired.
On the other hand, you may go completely the other way and fear the kind of infections or odious results that can arise from using expired makeup.
Both cases have arguments in their favor when it comes to expired shampoo.
An expired shampoo isn’t something you want to have around, but it doesn’t magically go from fine to toxic when it passes the 12, 18, or 24-month mark. As with makeup, food, and other products that degrade and spoil over time, its quality can degrade gradually, so these timelines are more of a guideline.
These months aren’t magical expiration dates after which your shampoo immediately turns rancid, but by the same token, if it starts to seem or smell off before those month markers, you should ditch it sooner rather than later.
Finally, some shampoos have preservatives that can potentially cause them to last longer. However, preservatives and more chemically-based shampoos have gone out of fashion in recent years in favor of more organic shampoos.
What Are the Warning Signs?
As with everything else organic, these shampoo formulas can start to decay, and when they do, they display warning signs that should immediately mark them as expired.
1. Unusual Odor
This is by far the most obvious sign that something’s gone very, very wrong with your shampoo. As alluded to above, shampoo companies go out of their way to market their shampoos as the most fragrant substances imaginable.
If yours starts to smell off or even starts to turn rancid, chances are it’s well past its prime. Even if you aren’t an expert on scalp and hair hygiene, you probably don’t want something as odious as that mixed into your hair.
There’s a reason we say things are suspicious if they “don’t pass the smell test,” so if your shampoo has a foul smell, it’s a clear sign you should junk it immediately.
2. Clumping Together
Think about how smoothly shampoo typically pours out of the bottle. Think of its texture. If something is off with the texture and, instead of a smooth, creamy mixture, you get something that comes out in clumps, chances are the shampoo has expired.
Does the shampoo look yellowish where it didn’t before? Is it at all discolored or different from its natural color? If the answer to either is yes, there’s a good chance that your shampoo has gone bad.
4. Starting to Separate
Shampoo should come out in a single, smooth texture. If the solution starts to separate into a more watery part and a more solid part, there’s a good chance that it’s started to spoil and should be tossed.
5. Feels Sticky
Feeling sticky, like having a foul odor, is one of the most prominent indicators that your once-good shampoo has gone wrong.
You don’t want your hair feeling like a sticky mess, so unless you love the texture of maple-syrup-meets-gum in your hair, stickiness is a sure-fire sign that it’s time to throw out your spoiled shampoo.
6. Doesn’t Lather Well
If neither smell nor texture are quite as conclusive as you’d like, try lathering the shampoo. You know what a good soapy lather looks like, so if your shampoo doesn’t lather well, chances are it’s starting to go bad.
How Can You Make Shampoo Last Longer?
There are several ways to increase your shampoo’s shelf life, starting with simply closing the lid when you aren’t using it.
This should be relatively obvious, but the more you leave the lid open, the longer you expose all of those aforementioned chemicals and biodegradable ingredients to the oxygen and other elements surrounding it, which can cause it to degrade faster.
You wouldn’t leave a food container open in a non-refrigerated setting, and the same holds true for shampoo.
Likewise, you’ll want to keep it away from direct sunlight or heat, both of which can cause bacteria to grow or accelerate the growth of any already present.
Instead, it would be best if you stored your shampoo in a dark, cool place – which shouldn’t be too hard given that bathroom cabinets typically fit that description. We also recommend storing shampoo bars in a dark, cool place too, even though they often don’t have specific shelf lives.
When first faced with the prospect of your shampoo spoiling, it can be all too easy to panic. The last thing you want is to accidentally use bad, bacteria-laden shampoo and leave your scalp open to infection or cause your hair to become a sticky, smelly mess.
Thankfully, however, those last two points make expired shampoos quite easy to detect. As long as you give your shampoo a good whiff, lather it up, and make sure that there’s nothing wrong with its scent or texture, chances are it’s good to go.
Check how long the bottle says it’s good for, and store it out in a cool, dark, climate-controlled spot. Doing all of this may not make you as absurdly happy as the models in those shampoo and conditioner commercials, but it can keep your bottle smelling and feeling fresher longer.