Shampoo is one of the most popular hair care products. It is vital for any good hair care routine and is essential for healthy hair.
As time goes by, it's actually pretty easy to amass multiple bottles of shampoo and shampoo products. Maybe you bought a few new bottles on sale, shoved them in your closet, and simply forgot about them.
After you blow off the dust of these unopened shampoo bottles, the question naturally arises: Does shampoo expire? Here, we examine the shampoo's shelf life and whether or not it's a good idea to use expired shampoo.
Table of contents:
- Does Shampoo Really Expire?
- How Can You Tell if Your Shampoo Is Expired?
- Should You Use Expired Shampoo?
- Extending Your Shampoo's Shelf Life
- What Should I Do With Expired Shampoo?
Does Shampoo Really Expire?
Most people would agree that expiration dates are pretty important when it comes to things like food and drinks. Sometimes we don't even need an expiry date to know we need to steer clear of certain products — e.g. milk turns into a smelly science experiment in the back of the fridge.
But how does that apply to things like beauty products or personal care products, like soaps and shampoos? Can old shampoo really go rancid like milk? Well, shampoo may not turn as rancid as milk or other foods, but it can most definitely expire.
The extent to which a shampoo "goes bad" really depends on the expired product. Depending on the ingredients, one product may have a shorter shelf life than another.
A Look at Shelf Life
Also, personal care products such as makeup, skin care, and hair care products like shampoo and conditioner aren't constrained to the same regulations as food.
For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the shelf life of cosmetics and beauty products. Shelf life simply refers to the length of time a consumer can expect a product to be used safely while looking and acting as expected.
Per the FDA, "There are no U.S. laws or regulations that require cosmetics to have specific shelf lives or have expiration dates on their labels." Of course, manufacturers do still have a responsibility to ensure their products are safe.
There are certain factors that can affect a care product's shelf life or cause it to degrade or break down. According to the FDA, one of the biggest factors is introducing microorganisms, like bacteria and fungi, into a product.
This can happen by simply dipping fingers into a product. Although preservatives can help mitigate this issue, these do break down over time, allowing bacteria to grow. Constant exposure to moisture can add to bacteria growth as well.
Another factor is temperature changes and exposure to direct sunlight, both of which can cause chemical changes to a product over time — and cause products to smell.
Period After Opening Dates
Most hair care products like shampoo have either an expiration date or something called a "period after opening" (PAO) label. The PAO refers to the shelf life of the product — how long you can expect to use it without the product changing.
In general, the PAO label can be found towards the bottom of the shampoo bottle. It typically looks like a tiny container logo with an associated number. The symbol looks like a small container with its lid off. Next to the number will be the letter "M," which means months.
For example, a label with "6M" means the shampoo is good for six months after it is opened. Other common labels include:
- 12 M
- 18 M
- 24 M
In some cases, certain shampoos may not come with an expiration date or noticeable PAO label. This can make the decision to keep or toss rather difficult. In cases like this, the best thing to do is inspect the shampoo to see whether it can be used.
The shelf life and PAO of shampoo really depend on the type of shampoo ingredients that are being used. Shampoo formulation depends on the manufacturer and type.
For example, a shampoo that is marketed to those with hair loss may have additional additives and ingredients used for thinning hair types to promote hair growth.
These may not be found in other shampoos. Also, dandruff shampoos will have additional ingredients that standard clarifying shampoos do not.
Common ingredients found in shampoos may include sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). These surfactants are used as cleaning agents.
These compounds are responsible for the foamy nature of shampoo lather. However, these can also strip natural hair oils, which can cause irritation and dry out the scalp and hair.
There is also concern that sulfates could contribute to fading hair color, hair breakage, and even hair loss. This goes for all hair types.
Other common chemicals include dimethicone (which helps smooth the hair), zinc pyrithione (which is used to combat dandruff), and parabens.
These are cosmetic preservatives that are supposed to help mitigate the effects of bacterial growth within the product. This also applies to dry shampoo ingredients as well.
Unfortunately, sulfates and parabens can also be quite harmful. At the end of the day, it is best to avoid these harsh artificial ingredients and stick with sulfate-free, natural shampoo alternatives.
Natural shampoos include those with natural oils (argan, almond, coconut oils), natural butter like shea or cocoa, and essential nutrients.
How Can You Tell if Your Shampoo Is Expired?
As a good rule of thumb, you can reasonably expect an unopened bottle of shampoo to last anywhere from two to four years. An opened bottle of shampoo is not as lengthy, lasting anywhere from six months to two years.
Of course, this isn't an exact science, and it really depends on the type of ingredients within the shampoo. You can expect shampoos with preservatives to last longer, though we've talked about some of the issues with synthetic preservatives.
Natural and organic shampoos will likely have a shorter shelf life.
Aside from expiration dates and PAOs, there are some warning signs to look out for when inspecting expired shampoo. Let's take a look at a few.
Conduct a Sniff Test
One of the first tell-tale signs that shampoo has gone bad is that it has an unusual odor. Most shampoos have a distinct smell thanks to fragrances, but this odor won't be pleasant.
If your shampoo exhibits a rancid odor, then it's probably time to toss it. At the end of the day, the nose doesn't lie — trust it. If it smells bad, it is bad.
The Shampoo Is Starting To Clump
Most shampoos come out of the bottle with a texture that is nice and smooth. It shouldn't come out looking like a bowl of lumpy oatmeal. So, if you notice your shampoo is coming out clumpy instead of smooth and creamy, there's a good chance it's ready to be thrown out.
In addition to clumping, another sign might be solution separation. If the shampoo solution is starting to separate into a solid solution and a watery solution, then it's probably gone bad.
The Color Seems Off
The discoloration is another tell-tale sign of bad shampoo. Basically, this applies if the shampoo changes color over time. For example, did it start out white, but it's now a yellowish color? This could be a sign your shampoo needs to be retired.
The Shampoo Doesn't Lather Well Anymore
If the visual inspection and smell test still haven't convinced you, then you should pay attention to the quality of the lather. If the shampoo isn't creating a nice lather, then it could be expired.
Also, look out for a sticky feeling to the shampoo. If you noticed it isn't lathering well but rather has a sticky feeling to it, then it's probably time to toss it away.
Should You Use Expired Shampoo?
So, what's the big deal? Drinking expired milk is one thing, but is using expired shampoo really a problem? Again, it all depends on the ingredients. If you're unsure, then it's always best to err on the side of caution.
As stated above, many shampoos contain artificial ingredients and chemicals — preservatives, additives, sulfates, etc. Over time, these ingredients can break down.
This can cause harsh chemical changes. For example, expired shampoos with these ingredients could cause skin irritation to the scalp and even the eyes. In severe cases, it could even contribute to scalp infections.
Also, expired shampoo can leave your hair looking and feeling dry, dull, and lifeless. If you're unsure whether these symptoms are related to expired shampoo, then it is best to consult your dermatologist. Remember — if in doubt, throw it out.
Extending Your Shampoo's Shelf Life
As mentioned above, it all starts with choosing the right type of shampoo. Artificial ingredients like preservatives can certainly extend the life of shampoo, but that benefit isn't worth the exposure to harsh chemicals.
Instead, it's best to opt for a sulfate-free shampoo that's also free from preservatives. For example, a good alternative is WOW's Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo. This clarifying shampoo is free from harsh chemicals and is rich in antioxidants and essential vitamins.
In order to maximize your shampoo's shelf life, it's generally best to store it in a cool, dark place that is out of the way of direct sunlight. Over time, sunlight (UV rays) can actually deteriorate and degrade ingredients within shampoos and shorten shelf life.
Also, make sure to recap the bottle or close the lid after every use. This helps keep things like shower water out of the bottle, which can deteriorate the shampoo over time.
What Should I Do With Expired Shampoo?
If you've determined that your shampoo is expired, then it's probably time to dispose of it. If the shampoo is open and spoiled, then it's best to empty the remaining shampoo either down the toilet or into the sink. Discard the bottle accordingly.
Shampoo should be a staple in every healthy hair care routine. But, over time, you may find shampoo bottles collecting dust in the closet. In such cases, it's best to check for an expiration date or POA label to see whether they're worth keeping around.
If you're in doubt about your expired shampoo, you can always inspect it to see if it's truly gone bad. If so, get rid of it as you see fit. Don't forget to check out WOW for hair care products and shampoos to fit your hair care needs.
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