How to Tell When Your Natural Hair Products Have Expired

How to Tell When Your Natural Hair Products Have Expired

When was the last time you “cleaned up” your natural hair product stash?

Back in September/October when I renovated the she-shed, I planned to clean up my products... but I didn’t. All I did was buy water hyacinth baskets to make my hoarders stash look cute. Today, I was cleaning up the she-shed (wiping everything down with Lysol because #coronavirus) and got to thinking — I’ve had some of these products for a reeeeeally long time.

I have a (bad) habit of holding on to half-used products with the intention of “getting back to them” eventually. I’m also a “just in case I do that style” product hoarder. Spoiler alert: I almost NEVER actually do the style. I just... hold on. In this case, I was holding on to products from 2017. Although I didn’t see much in the way of icky spots and discoloration, I knew better than to keep holding on.

I grabbed a trash bag and got to chucking. It hurt — but not more than the potential repercussions of using hair products well beyond their “best by” date. And in light of the theories floating around about “bad batches” of DevaCurl, I KNEW that nothing positive could come from holding on. So down the drain and into the recycle bin it was.

So, how do you know when it’s time to let go? How can you tell when your hair products have expired? Keep reading to learn more about when it’s time to toss!

How Long Do Natural Hair Products Last?
The short answer is, it depends on a lot of different factors —some of which you can control, and some that you can't. But we'll get to the factors you can control in a bit. Generally speaking, the shelf life of your standard natural hair product (think Target or Sally Beauty) is around 3 years if sealed airtight and unopened.

How to Tell When Your Natural Hair Products Have Expired

But once you've taken those products home, the ball game changes. Once opened, natural hair products can last anywhere from 3 to 24 months. The most common ranges I've seen are 6 to 12 months. It all boils down to what preservatives (if any) are present in the product formulation, how you're storing the product, and how much you've worked to minimize contamination. As a rule of thumb, non-aqueous products (think shampoo bars, dry herbal teas, oils) tend to last longer than aqueous products (shampoos, conditioners, gels, creams, etc.). 

How can you tell? Grab a hair product that you recently purchase. Turn the bottle or jar over and look for an icon on the label that looks like a jar with the lid open. The number on the jar icon indicates how many months the product is good for once opened. Alternatively, you may find that some brands stamp an expiration date on the label, or include shelf life information on their website.

How to Tell When Your Natural Hair Products Have Expired

Of course this isn't an absolute —you may have a freak instance where a product expires ahead of time, or one that holds up monthsssss after the "best by" date. Either way, your best course of action is to take a good look (and sniff) at your products every month or so — especially if you plan to use them.

How Can You Tell When a Product is Expired?
I'm glad you asked! To figure out whether your natural hair products are still good, you'll need to engage your sense of smell, trust your eyes, and tap into your memory. Here are the four areas to check before you chuck:

Recall what the product looked, smelled, and felt like when you first purchased it. If it was once creamy, has it turned lumpy? If it was once thick, has it turned runny (or vice versa)? Consistency is a key indicator of product integrity. If the product has broken down, it's likely gone bad or on its way.

Discoloration and transformation from clear to cloudy are also signs of product expiration. Pay attention to spots that look lighter or darker than when you first purchased the product. Visual transformation inside your bottle or jar is a sure sign that something's gone awry.

Sour. Rancid. Mildewy. Super chemical-ly. If the smell was appealing when you first started using the product and things have gone south, it's time to part ways.

How to Tell When Your Natural Hair Products Have Expired

Strange Specks and Spots
If it looks like mold, it probably is. If it looks like something from your 8th grade science experiment, it's probably time to chuck the bottle or jar. If the contents just don't "sit right" with you, don't second-guess yourself. In the photo above, you can clearly see that my deep conditioner turned. Kinda gross, huh?

Tips for Extending Natural Hair Product Shelf Life
Earlier, we touched briefly on factors you can control that directly impact product shelf life once you've brought them home. The following conditions can actually accelerate product breakdown and expiration:
  • heat
  • direct sunlight
  • moisture
  • water
  • air
To keep your products lasting as long as possible, follow these 5 rules:
  1. Store products in a cool dark place like a cupboard or shelf away from direct sunlight.
  2. When not in use, make sure products are closed tightly to prevent accelerated oxidation.
  3. When possible, minimize "dipping" wet hands into product jars. Our fingers (and the water dripping from them) can contaminate the contents of your products.
  4. Don't store products in areas with lots of steam (like the shower).
  5. For products without preservatives, refrigerate them to extend shelf life.
And finally, remember to "spring clean" your product stash every 3-4 months!

How to Tell When Your Natural Hair Products Have Expired