Does shampoo expire as foods do? Shampoos and conditioners contain a slew of active ingredients that can destabilize over time. As a result, shampoos can expire. However, knowing when the product goes past the point of no return is a bit trickier than looking at a simple date.
As a lover of all things hair, this is something that I had to learn about on my own. I try to be knowledgeable about everything I put on my scalp. While a lot of that information is readily available, the shelf-life of products isn’t so cut and dry.
I get asked about expiration dates all the time. With the rise of organic shampoos and natural ingredients, it’s an important thing to consider.
In this article, we’re going to learn more about shampoos and how they change over time. Read on to learn:
- Why shampoos go bad
- What happens if you try to use expired shampoo
- How to tell when shampoo goes bad
- How to read safety labeling
Why Do Shampoos Expire?
First things first, let’s go over why haircare products go bad in the first place! These beauty products aren’t meant for consumption, so why worry about an expiration date at all?
Well, it all comes down to safety and efficiency. Even the most natural formula is going to have a fine-tuned ingredient list. Every detail is thought out to maximize the effects of the product in the easiest way possible.
The pristine formula will not last forever! The various constituents can become unstable, resulting in a deconstructed product with minimal benefits. The thing that makes shampoo so effective is that all ingredients work together to lather up and remove oils. When the elements start to break down, you’re suddenly left with random chemicals and botanicals that have no purpose to you.
Natural exposure can lead to some problems, too. Like food, oxygen and bacteria can ruin the quality of the shampoo. Of course, the effect is not as fast or noticeable. But, it’s possible nonetheless. The longer the shampoo sit out, the higher the risk of break-down and decay.
Organic and all-natural shampoos may experience issues even quicker than their chemical-laden counterparts! Some chemical additives can keep the product stable for much longer. Two of the most common shampoo preservatives, DMDM hydantoin, and imidazolidinyl urea, prevent the product from spoiling due to fungus or bacteria!
Because organic products don’t utilize a ton of preservatives, they are often the first to go.
What Happens If You Use Expired Shampoo?
Contrary to popular belief, old shampoo isn’t necessarily a health hazard. When the product becomes dangerous and when it expires are two different things. In fact, you may be able to repurpose newly expired products depending on the formula.
All that said, it’s never a good idea to continue using old products on your scalp. It might not be toxic, but you could still experience unwanted side-effects.
The most immediate thing to happen with expired shampoos is decreased efficacy. Shampoos go through a chemical change, eliminating some of the targeted perks you’re after! Whether the product was meant to reduce frizz or boost volume, don’t expect the shampoo to have any of those properties after expiration.
In more serious cases, an old shampoo product could alter the quality of your hair! All shampoos are different, and the impacts of using it after it expires depend entirely on the formula. On the more benign end of the spectrum, you might experience dryness or a subtle color change.
With chemically-rich products, things can even go as far as hair loss! Though, situations like that are few and far between.
There is, however, a real threat of irritation. Expired shampoos can contain unwanted bacteria. Using the shampoo would only spread it, leading to irritation, open sores, and more.
Do Shampoo Products Have an Expiration Date?
Believe it or not, manufacturers are not required to provide an expiration date on the packaging. In fact, no cosmetics products do! That law only applies to consumables and other specific goods.
The FDA doesn’t require any of that information. But, it does require that manufacturers keep products safe. Information about when the formula goes bad is, inherently, part of that process. As a result, most reputable brands will provide some data to give you a better idea of what to expect.
Generally, this comes in the form of shelf life information rather than an exact expiration date. The shelf life refers to how long the shampoo is stable and safe for use after opening. You might see it being called the Period After Opening (PAO) date.
These days, the shelf life is shown with the PAO symbol. It looks like an opened cosmetics jar. Inside the graphic, you’ll see a number followed by the letter “M.” In this case, the “M” stands for “Months.” So, a symbol with “24M” means that the product is safe and effective for a period of 24 months after opening.
The shelf life information is different from traditional expiration dates. Because the chemical reactions inside the shampoo rely on exposure, when the product truly goes bad, it will be different for everyone! The PAO information ensures that you have an adjusted timeframe based on when you buy, open, and start using the shampoo.
How Long Does Shampoo Usually Last?
Again, this all depends on the formula. Make sure to check the PAO symbol!
Generally, opened shampoos will stay stable for around 18 months. Unopened products, however, can last up to three years.
If you’re not sure about whether or not your favorite shampoo has expired, there are a few ways to test things out!
Take a look at the shampoo and give it a good smell. Usually, you can instantly see that things are not right. After the ingredients break down, the shampoo may take on a foul smell. It can also develop a strange texture. Many become lumpy or turn yellow. You might also see the various ingredients separating into distinct layers.
If anything seems off, toss it out! It’s better to play it safe than risk damage to your previous mane.
The Bottom Line
Shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and pretty much any other cosmetic product is capable of going bad. While it may not be as obvious as spoiled food, expired shampoo is pretty easy to spot if you look closely.
Old shampoo changes on a chemical level, resulting in a foul product that you don’t want anywhere near your hair! Expired products can negatively impact the look and feel of your locks. Not only that, but they can potentially cause serious irritation or infection problems!
Pay close attention to any expiration information haircare brands provide. If you have a habit of letting shampoos sit around for months on end, we recommend being a bit more proactive about using your favorite products! Take a look at the PAO dates on various shampoos next time you go shopping. You’ll be surprised by how much shelf life varies from one shampoo to the next.