We’ve all done it: you buy hair dye, promptly forget about it, and it sits on a shelf for months until you finally stumble across it while looking for band-aids, and decide to color your hair right that minute because it’s cocktail-o’clock and it seems like a good idea.
You never stop to question, “Does hair dye expire? Should I seriously be putting this on my head?” You’re more apt to think, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Oh, my friend, you don’t want to even contemplate the very worst thing that can happen—but you need to, especially if you’re a fan of frequent color changes.
Can Hair Dye Expire? Read on
First of all, here are the hard numbers: most hair color brands state that an unopened tube or bottle of hair dye is good for three years.
Some companies swear that their product has an unlimited shelf life, but I personally find that unbelievable and don’t want to experiment to see if it’s true.
Now, that’s for unopened dye. Let’s talk about open containers of color.
Does Hair Dye Expire after Opening It?
Surely, at least once, you’ve ended up with hair dye left in the bottle and been loathe to throw it away, right?
So, does hair dye expire after opening it? Yup. The basic school of thought is that hair dye expires 1-2 years after opening it. Mind you, that’s for professional colors.
Drugstore brands and cult products such as Manic Panic likely go bad much more quickly. It’s not hard to tell if you’re dealing with over-the-hill hair dye. Extreme changes to the color of the product are a dead giveaway.
You might also notice a strong or unpleasant odor after opening the container. Sometimes, the expired dye will also separate. It looks murky as if it needs to be shaken or stirred. At that point, just chuck it.
Signs of Expired Dyes
If you don’t see an expiration date on the hair dye packing, there are several ways you can tell if it has expired.
Cracked or Leaking Bottle
A cracked bottle is a sign that the hair dye is old or has been exposed to the elements, and that will change its efficacy. Chances are if there is a crack, then there’s a leak, so don’t use it if you see any dye on the outside of the bottle.
Also, if the packing the hair dye came in is dented or the bottle itself is swollen, then the hair dye itself could be damaged.
Whether you purchased the hair dye from a discount store or you previously used the hair dye and mixed it with another hair coloring product, never use an open bottle of hair dye.
Even hair dye that has been mixed with something else should be used within a few hours or at most a few days.
Hair dye should be the consistency of a smooth liquid, so if you see lumps (like you see in cake batter), skip using it. Seeing lumps in hair dye is a sign that the dye has been exposed to outside elements and it won’t work the way it’s supposed to. You shouldn’t have to stir hair dye.
Additionally, do not use hair dye if it has ‘separated’ and you see a film on top. You can be sure the dye is okay to use before application by squeezing out a little to check its consistency.
These days, most hair dyes are made to smell pretty nice or will otherwise at least have a slight ammonia smell. You’ll know your hair dye has expired if the smell is obviously foul and similar to spoiled food, such as bad eggs.
Hair dye should never burn when you apply it to your head. If you start to rub it into your hair and feel it burning on your scalp, immediately stop and wash it out, and discard the hair dye.
Side Effects of Expired Hair Dye
If you dye your hair anyway, then you have to own the consequences. Before taking the risk, maybe you need to hear about some of the worst expired hair dye side effects.
#1: Is Green Your Color?
You know how chlorine can turn bleached hair green? Well, expired hair dye can do the same thing, and it doesn’t even matter if your hair is bleached.
Using dye once it’s expired changes its chemical makeup—and the way it reacts with your hair. Dark green locks are one of the most frequent complaints people have after taking their chances with expired hair color.
#2: Color Roulette
Green hair isn’t the only color concern associated with a dye that’s past its prime. You really have no way of knowing what color you’ll end up with after the application.
It’s possible that you’ll end up with no change whatsoever—the dye might be entirely ineffective. Then again, it could also produce a color that’s totally different from the shade on the box.
#3: Feel the Frizz
Hair dye that passes its use-by date can be dangerous, not just inconvenient. It can cause serious damage to your hair. After you rinse, you may end up with a frizzy mess that either needs intense TLC or a big chop.
#4: On Fire
No joke. The risk of burning your scalp is one of the worst expired hair dye side effects imaginable. And not only can expired dye scorch your tender scalp, but it can also lead to hair loss. Is it worth the risk?
#5: Fade Away
Lastly, expired hair color isn’t as strong, intense, or pigmented. Even if you end up with the color you wanted in the first place, it might not last long.
Expired dye tends to fade even faster than fresh color. Then you’ve wasted time and risked your hair for nothing, essentially.
Hair dyes generally expire after three years, so make sure you use up your old ones before buying new ones.
If you’re unsure about whether or not a particular box of hair dye has expired and there is no expiration date on the product, you’ll have to open it and do a little detective work.
When dealing with hair dye that has been opened, it’s probably been contaminated by fungi or bacteria and needs to be tossed.
Some of the signs of expiration might be a strong smell that is not like the original ammonia smell, caking around the lid, streaks of liquid or color, or separation of the product.
If you use old hair dye, your hair may end up looking green. Or maybe the dye will give you a darker shade. Perhaps it won’t do anything at all.
If it’s just a small amount, wash it down the sink. If it is more, look through the instructions to see if the manufacturer suggests how you can dispose of it.
To extend the shelf life of your hair dye, don’t open the package. When you open the box, you expose the product to light, which can start the process of oxidation.
And definitely don’t open the containers inside the packaging, as it will then be exposed to light, air, and bacteria.
Hair dye that’s already been mixed should be used immediately. Anything you don’t use should be discarded. If the dye isn’t mixed yet, you can keep it for the next dye session, but not for months and years.
Honestly, what do you save by using expired hair dye? A few bucks? Don’t chance it.
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