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Hair Product Expiration Guidelines

Hair Care Products Hair Care Products

Hair Product Expiration Guidelines

Do you know what's lurking in your hair care shelves in your bathroom?  I am definitely a pack rat with my hair care products.

I try so many different products in any given year I often have dozens of shampoos, conditioners, detanglers and styling products stacked up in my shower, on the rim around the bathtub, on the floor outside the shower and under the sink.  Well, you probably get the picture.

Sometimes I'll use a product just once and decide it just won't work for my hair type, texture, condition and length.

I should just toss it at that point but I can't bring myself to throw away good money.  Often I will offer it to my friends, family or team members.  If it's appropriate to do so, I will donate it to a homeless or woman's shelter. Other times it will sit and languish under my sink.  At some point I just give into my better senses and throw it away.

Hair Care Product Expiration Labeling

Unfortunately hair care products don't have an eternal shelf life.  Their ingredients do expire over time.   Currently The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) does not require hair products to have any kind expiration labeling.

Okara Defrisant Shampoo In Squeeze Delivery Tube Okara Defrisant Shampoo In Squeeze Delivery Tube

A growing number of professional hair care lines are providing expiration dates on their own products.   Expiration dates usually begin from the time you first open your hair care products.

Although unopened, sealed hair care products are considered safe for up to 3 years, experts believe this decreases to approximately 1 1/2 years after the products has been opened and exposed to air, heat and light.

Impact Of Contact With Human Skin

The shelf life of shampoo, conditioners and hair styling products such as creams, gels and balms rapidly lose their viability when they come in contact with human skin.

This is because of the bacteria that is naturally present on the skin and under the fingernails.  Another factor which rapidly decreases shelf life is when the product is diluted from exposure to drops of water.

Go With Sprays And Controlled Packaging

One trick to minimize shelf life deterioration is to only buy hair care products which are packaged in spray containers.  In the hair care industry hair care products which are packaged in individual sealed potions or in sealed containers will last much longer than products which are not.

They may cost more when packaged in tubes than jars but you have to consider the benefit or less potential for contamination and a longer shelf life.

Phyto 9 Squeeze Tube Delivery System Phyto 9 Squeeze Tube Delivery System

Other great options are shampoos which closed tops which offer a pump or squeeze bottle delivery.  This minimizes body contact.

When products are sealed or segregated due to packaging, there is much less change of contamination or dilution.  Squeeze tubes versus jars where you have to insert your fingers is always a good choice.

Over the past few years some hair care companies have packaged their products in bottles which are designed to minimize contact with human skin, fingers or water.  These type of products also last longer than those which are open source.

Three Years Is The Rule Of Thumb

Even with the best packaging, unopened products naturally expired after three years, even when stored in a cool environmentally controlled area away from heat and sunlight.  Over time oxidation will occur and any added fragrances will start to slowly disintegrate.  Ditto for preservatives.  Always keep products you're not actively using in a cool, dark place.

Some hair experts point out that more natural products have an even shorter shelf life due to the composition of their more natural preservatives and aromas.

Kenra Styling Foam Pump Delivery Kenra Styling Foam Pump Delivery

Although three years is the suggested rule of thumb for unopened products to be used by, if you open a products after three years and it looks, feels and smells alright, it's up to you whether to use it or not.  However, once you do open a product which has been stored in a dark climate for three years you should use it up very quickly.

Keep Your Own Records

When in doubt it's always best to keep your own records.  Hair experts suggest writing down purchase and/or first use dates with a permanent marker on all hair care products.   Remember to use a marker which will not wash off in the shower.

Some people keep a expiration notebook in a bathroom cabinet and write down product details.  If you wish you could add purchase and first use dates to hair product details.

Harmful Bacteria And Infections

Although expired hair care products can be annoying because they smell bad, become discolored or lose their ability to work as desired, there is a secondary issue.  If you use expired or products harboring harmful bacteria on scalps with abrasions, open sores, rashes or similar, there could be a risk of added infection.

Phyto Spray Bottle Phyto Spray Bottle

The risks of infection from contaminated or spoiled products are multiplied when these products are shared with others such as family or friends.

General Tips For Dealing With Hair Care Products

— Always smell your hair care products before use, especially if it's been awhile since you used them.  If they have an unusual odor, color or texture they may contain bacteria and should be immediately discarded.

— Always make sure that all hair care products are kept tightly closed and stored out of  direct sunlight, as this can destroy the preservatives, aromas and ingredients.  This is especially true for all natural or organic based products.

— Don't use any harsh or chemical hair treatments or related products if you currently have a scalp irritation, rash or breakouts.

— Never add any liquids to products unless directed by the manufacturer.

— Keep hair care products away from drops of water during use.

— When possible opt for hair care products packaged in spray bottles or closed delivery systems to avoid contamination from skin or fingernails.

— Don't share your hair care products unless necessary.

— Avoid sampling hair related products at drug or department stores. Ask instead  for small unopened samples.  Bacteria can be spread from person to person by hands and fingernails.  Don't share hair care samples with complete strangers.

Mason Pearson Brush Mason Pearson Brush

— Keep hair brushes, combs and related hair styling tools clean and sanitized.  This includes the handles of blow dryers, hots irons or electric rollers.  Use a sanitizing cloth to wipe down all hair tools when appropriate.

— Mark your hair care products with purchase and first use dates with an indelible or waterproof marker.

— Know your retailer.  Many retailers will police their inventory keeping an eye on expiration dates.  Others will not.  If a hair product is covered in dust on the shelves it may be a bad sign.


Although the federal government doesn't currently require hair care companies to post suggested expiration dates on products, some manufacturers do provide suggested use guidelines on their packaging.

Hair care products which are unopened and stored in a cool, dark location will generally last three years.  Some believe you can use them longer if they're not all natural, organic or have special ingredients.  Whether you toss an unopened product after three year or not should be determined by smell, color and product functionality.

Never use questionable hair care products on scalps with abrasions or open sores.  When in doubt, toss it.  The health of your scalp and hair isn't worth any risks.

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