Getting to dye your hair at home is just one of technology’s great gifts to humanity.
Nowadays, you don’t have to book a salon appointment and spend hours there just to touch up your roots or change your look on a whim!
But one thing that’s been confusing dye users for a while now is that most hair dyes don’t have an expiration date on them.
It makes you wonder when you look at box dye and don’t see an expiration date. Does Loreal hair dye expire? Does the brand make a difference?
Most manufacturers like to say that their dyes can last forever!
But when you break it all down, hair dye is a box or tube of chemicals, all interacting in different ways — ways that time can change.
So how exactly do they get away with it if it’s such crucial information? Well, first of all, the FDA doesn’t exactly require an expiration date on such products. 1
Other companies would err on the side of caution, of course, and say that their dyes are only good on shelves for up to 3 years.
But how can you tell, really?
How long do hair dyes last? Does it make a difference once they’re opened?
When it comes to processed food, a way of thinking has cropped up lately, leading to the idea that expirations dates are more “suggestions” than rules.
A carton of milk can go bad way before the date that’s on the box, or a package of cookies can still be good and safe even past the expiration date.
Instead, the best way to gauge it is by look, smell, and taste! If it looks moldy and gross, then it’s probably best to throw it away. If it still looks good but smells weird, toss it in the bin!
While hair dyes don’t exactly have these “suggestions” because of a lack of expiration dates printed on them at all, the next step to the process is something we might apply.
We might not be able to taste hair dye like food (Please don’t! There’s absolutely no reason to do it at all.) But look and smell are great signs to go by.
First, check by looks, and if it passes the look test, go by smell.
Here are a few that you can look out for:
Broken bottles, damaged boxes, leaking tubes, cracked caps — all of these are signs of potential contamination.
If the packaging on your dye has sustained some damage after storing, the best way to prevent any damage on your hair and skin is just to throw it out.
These damages are signs of some potential contamination. Bacteria and mold are the most common culprits, and any kind of compromise on the packaging makes your dye susceptible.
But even without those tiny creatures sneaking up on your dyes, air and water can cause damage too.
Dyes are made with very reactive chemicals, and even just the addition of plain old water can cause some changes that won’t do your hair any good.
Visible change can be as wild and funky as actual mold growing on the product or as mild as discoloration.
Either way, whether it’s white fuzzy bits on the surface of your dye, a color that wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place, you’re best tossing it ASAP.
Some dyes might end up pooling with liquid or diluting after the chemicals have changed from being in storage for too long if you see this, better not use it either!
With the very chemical nature of hair dye, it usually already has a not-so-great smell.
But this smell is usually something very close to ammonia, rather than something sour or foul.
So if you have hair dye that smells like anything else but the usual, then it’s probably safest if you skip.
Check Out: How long does Arctic Fox hair dye last?
Now that you know how to tell whether or not that dye in the back of your cabinet’s still good to go, maybe now you want to do your hair!
But wait, opening hair dye is a completely different story from having it securely sealed and stored.
If you’re just planning on opening hair dye and not mixing it yet, you can check on the side of the box to see if it has the period-after-opening (PAO) symbol. It usually comes in the shape of an opened container, or tub, with a number on it. 2
It usually says 3M, 6M, 8M, 12M, etc., which stands for the number of months it can last after opening. So, if you see a package with 12M on it, it means you’re good to keep that dye opened for the next 12 months.
But again, before using, make sure to check the look and smell, especially if it’s been sitting in storage for a while.
Once you’ve opened hair dye and mixed it, you’re on a ticking clock to ensure that it’s still safe for use. Mixing the chemicals in dye usually means that it undergoes oxidation.
Oxidation is a fickle process that time can affect pretty badly. So, once you’ve opened up some hair dye and mixed it, it’s best to use it within the next 30 minutes.
Expired hair dye is a pretty dangerous concoction that can affect your hair in a bunch of different ways.
There’s a spectrum of effects, depending on your hair and your body’s response to allergens and chemicals. 3
Possibly the most benign effect of using expired hair dye is ending up with a more wishy-washy color job than you’re supposed to.
While it’s not necessarily harmful, it’s a waste of time to do your entire head of hair only to get a fraction of your intended result.
Apparently, there have been many horror stories of people using expired hair dye, which turned their hair green! 4
There's no scientific basis for it, but it can happen if you have bleached or blonde hair. It’s likely due to the chemical reactions that oxidize the dye, turning it into a completely different hue.
One of the more dangerous effects of using expired hair dye is hair damage.
It might just come across as frizz at first, but the chemical changes go down much deeper. Frizzy, messy hair is only the beginning symptom of a problem that can later turn into breakage and perhaps even hair loss. 5
These are probably the most adverse effects of using expired hair dye.
Chemicals can seriously burn not just your hair but also your scalp and the skin on your hairline. These would often need immediate medical attention. 6
Also, because the chemical make-up of the dye is no longer as stated on the box, you wouldn’t know if you’re suddenly allergic to the dye after it’s been left to react on its own.
Allergic reactions can range from itching to serious damage, so take this as a word of caution!
Often, the best way to keep your hair dye from expiring too soon is to follow the storage instructions to a tee.
Hair dyes should be sealed and kept in a cool, dry place in the dark. This is the best way to prevent any contamination and untoward chemical reactions.
In general, an unopened box of permanent hair color can last up to 3 years. If there's no "best before" date written on the box, write the date when you bought it. 7
Semi-permanent box dyes like Manic Panic and Arctic Fox can last for 1-2 years if stored properly and unopened. 8
Once opened, you can still use an Arctic Fox Hair Dye bottle for up to 12 months after opening. 9 For other semi-permanent dye brands, check the manufacturer website for more up-to-date info.
While hair dye is now easily accessible to use at home, it makes it prone to contamination and being a hazard. You can’t just pick and choose the kind of damage you might be exposing yourself. So always try and work with care and caution in mind.
However, don’t worry. With a careful eye and an alert nose, you can always keep yourself safe while enjoying the convenience and colors you love.