Do Hair Masks Expire and Is It Safe To Use Them?

Hair masks are a useful product that can hold up for a long time. However, you might be wondering if they have an expiration date and become unusable at some point.

Hair masks will eventually expire, even though hair products can last up to three years as long as they remain sealed and are stored in a cool, dark place. And, after they’re open, they might even go bad prior to their expiration date if not handled properly.

This article will explain how to understand hair product expiration dates, how to tell if your hair product has gone bad and the consequences of using expired products. So keep reading if you want to learn more.

Table of Contents

Hair Product Shelf Life and Expiration Dates

Hair products have a shelf life of three years, which means that if they remain unopened they will last around three years. However, their expiration dates will vary depending on the product, the container, and how you store it.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “the law does not require cosmetics to have an expiration date. However a product may go bad if you store them the wrong way,” this includes not only products such as nail polish, lipstick but also hair products such as shampoo and hair masks as well, so it is up to the manufacturer to decide if they want to include the expiration date on the product or not.

Though the shelf life is usually three years, once open, the product is most likely to last between 1 to 2 years, they depend on the number of preservatives used.

This decrease happens because bacteria might start to accumulate in the product once it comes into contact with the air. Hair masks are even more susceptible to bacteria since they often come in jars, having direct contact with your hands and skin.

But how can you know how long your favorite hair mask will last?

It is not mandatory for a hair product to have this information but you should still try to find the PAO symbol on the container. PAO means “Period After Opening” and it lets you know for how long a product will be stable after it is first opened, during this period the product can be used without harmful effects. 

If you notice your hair mask’s PAO symbol has a “12M” on it, for example, that means that once you open it, the hair mask is safe to use for the next 12 months and after this period of time it is recommended that you throw it away. The PAO symbol will always show a number and an “M” next to it, representing the word “months”.

It is important to understand that just because the product doesn’t have an expiration date or a PAO symbol on it doesn’t mean that it won’t go bad. The product will eventually lose its functionality and begin showing signs that it has expired.

It should also be noted that organic products have a shorter shelf life. Therefore if you decide to go with a natural product, you should keep in mind that it won’t last as long as other products.

These natural products don’t contain the preservatives that regular hair products do, so their shelf life and their expiration dates tend to be shorter, so they should be used within 3 or 4 months after their first usage.

How to Tell If Your Hair Products Have Expired

It is not uncommon to forget when you first opened the container of the products you’re currently using. And the environment where you store the container can also affect the quality of the product, as well as exposure to air and germs when you open the container.

So, it’s important to be able to tell if your products have expired or if you can continue to use them. Here are some indicators that your hair product has gone bad:

Curdled Look

If the product you’re intending to use has a curdled or separated look, it might look lumpy, it is most likely expired and you’re probably better off throwing it away.

Change in Smell

If you notice the delightful scent you once smelled is gone, you should probably think twice before using that product. An expired hair product will lose its wonderful fragrance and begin to smell funky. 

Different Texture

A different texture is also an indicator that a product might have gone bad. A liquid product that is now thicker or a thick product that turned watery is definitely a sign of an expired product.

Now that you know how to identify an expired product, let’s dive into how you can prevent products from going bad before their expiration dates.

How to Avoid Ruining Products Prematurely

Many products don’t actually go bad because of time, most products go bad because of contamination and not being properly stored. Here are some tips to take better care of your hair products:

  • Don’t store your hair products somewhere too warm or too moist. Store them in a cool, dark, and dry area instead, to prevent the deterioration process.
  • Products in bottles with pumps last longer. Products in containers with pumps last longer since they don’t make direct contact with the air and your hands, so there is less risk of bacteria contaminating the product. Jars are your worst enemy when it comes to bacteria because people tend to dig into them with their hands, but if you can’t avoid buying products in jars, use a spoon or another utensil when you use the product instead.
  • Make sure to check if the lid or cap is properly closed. This way it’ll be harder for the bacteria to contaminate the product after you use it.

Consequences of Using an Expired Product

Now, after reading all of this you might be asking yourself: Are expired hair products safe to use?

Manufacturers may not be obliged to label products with the expiration date, it is good to keep in mind that products that have been left unopened for 3 years have most likely gone bad, the same goes for bottles that were opened 18 months ago. 

Not only might they smell odd and have a different consistency but old hair products also don’t function properly anymore, as their ingredients start to deteriorate over time.

As soon as a bottle is opened and exposed to air, it begins to collect bacteria, which means that when you use these expired products your skin can actually absorb the bacteria, possibly leading to a breakout, a rash, or even an infection, which could potentially be dangerous.

According to Nat Mane, a trichologist, if you’re using an expired product you should be extra careful around your scalp. The hair is considered a dead organ, but the scalp isn’t, it’s a sensitive part of your body. So, it could be very risky to subject it to expired hair products, it could even lead to hair problems.


Don’t hold onto your favorite hair mask for too long, as it might expire and then you won’t be able to use it at all.

If you’re not sure if your product has outlived its expiration date, check for indicators that it might’ve gone bad. Next time you can also write down the date in which you opened the container for the first time so you’re aware of when to start checking for signs.

All hair products expire, it is important to stay attentive and be aware of the consequences of using expired products.

Written by Christina Bowler

We're a team of hair care enthusiast that have been in this industry for a very long time. Since 2019 we've been writing helpful articles to help you find the right tips, tricks, and products that you might want. Feel free to ask us questions on the contact page.

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