There are those hair care products that you use up and replace immediately. You probably even have a backup bottle or two in your bathroom closet. And then there are those that take longer to use. Have you ever wondered…do hair products expire?
The short answer is yes. But, like everything concerning beauty products, there’s more to the story.
Do Hair Products Expire and How Long Do Hair Products Last?
All cosmetic products have the potential to go bad. But water-based products have a shorter shelf life, and here’s why.
Water-based formulas breed mold, fungus, and bacteria. This is why it’s necessary for them to include preservative ingredients. Conventional hair care manufacturers use synthetic preservatives, like parabens, to prevent bacterial and microbial growth, and give their products a longer shelf life. But parabens and other synthetic preservatives come with issues—like endocrine disruption, potential carcinogenic activity, developmental, reproductive, and immune toxicity, and allergic reaction. Who wants their product to have a super long shelf life when it comes with risks associated with these synthetics?
The name of the game is to use the freshest possible product. And with natural ingredients, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds. Yes, there are natural preservative ingredients and methods that are highly effective and come without the risks linked to synthetic preservatives. Proper storage is another way to keep your hair products fresh. More on that in a sec.
What about hair products that are not water-based, like oils and serums? Oils have a longer shelf life and are more stable on their own than water-based formulas. But they are also types of products that take longer to use up, so you need to be sure and replace them after too long. (We will clue you in on when to keep and when to toss each type of product in a minute.)
What Is the Shelf Life of Hair Products?
The shelf life of hair products varies depending on a few factors—the ingredients, how they are used, and how they are stored. Do hair products have expiration dates? Unlike your yogurt or almond butter, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees regulation of cosmetics, does not require cosmetics manufacturers to display an expiry date on hair products.
With that being said, many brands include the Period After Opening (PAO) mark on their packaging. To find the PAO mark, look on your product's label for a small drawing of a container marked with a number and the letter M, typically on the back in the lower right-hand corner. The number is an estimate of how many months the product will maintain its quality after it's been opened for the first time.
There currently is no requirement for PAO labeling of any cosmetic products sold within the USA.
POA is not the same as an expiration date. A product’s expiration date (or “shelf life”) is generally accepted as the amount of time it takes a product to cease performing as outlined or advertised. Essentially, the period of time it is safe to use and will perform its function within. The product never has to have been opened to expire.
Not to worry! There are a few tips when it comes to ditching them before they go bad.
First off, any product that comes into contact with air, heat, light, or human touch (yep, dipping your fingers in that jar of your favorite hair mask counts) means the quality of the product begins to degrade.
While we most often keep our hair care products in the bathroom (obvi!), there are some pitfalls to this setup. High humidity and warmer temps all lead to product breakdown. And bathrooms tend to be both of those, especially the shower, where most hair care products reside.
So, how to store hair products in the bathroom without causing them to degrade? Those cute little cosmetics fridges are not necessary. But if you have one, they are a great place to store your gel-type serums and sprays. It’s absolutely fine to store unopened hair products in your bathroom closet where it’s dark and a bit cooler. Make sure your fingers are clean when dipping into jars and tubs, or use a cosmetic spatula, and get lids on tightly to keep the products as fresh as possible.
When Do Hair Products Expire?
Water-Based Hair Products: The basic expiry timeline for most water-based hair products (like shampoos and conditioners) is around 12-24 months. But natural hair products (those made with natural preservatives) might have a shorter shelf life. Some brands give a use-by date on the product label. If you don’t see one, using a water-based product up within twelve months of opening it is the best guideline.
Oil Based Hair Products: Oils typically have a fairly long shelf life and can stay fresh for up to two or three years unopened. After opening, replace oils after one year or sooner if necessary.
Pumps and Aerosols: Products that come in an airtight container (think a pump or aerosol bottle) have the longest shelf life because they remain sealed. Still, we recommend replacing all products that you’ve had (unopened) after a couple of years or if they seem less than fresh.
How can you tell if your hair products seem not so fresh? When in doubt—say, you can’t remember how long you’ve had a product—check the appearance and scent. If the product has separated, turned a different color, or smells off (oils often smell rancid, and water-based products can have a mildew-y smell), go ahead and replace it.
What Happens if You Use Expired Hair Products?
So, you went ahead and used a product that’s well past its prime? Here’s what happens if you use expired hair products.
If the product has become contaminated with bacteria or mold, that means your skin and hair have come into contact with them and you could see breakouts or irritation. Some research has even shown a link between infection and contaminated cosmetics.
The bottom line? Store your unopened hair care properly, keep your hair products clean and closed as tightly as possible when not using them, and pitch them in the garbage before they expire.
All North Authentic products are free of: Sulfates, parabens, EDTA, 1,4 Dioxian, and many more all provided in our Hair Crimes List. While we work with our brands to become even more conscious, we identify additional "Free Of" ingredients on every product page.
Shop "Free Of" ingredient preferences using our Filters. You can also take the North Authentic Hair Quiz to get your personalized hair care prescription of the best products for your hair curl type.