Does shampoo expire? Here's everything you need to know

Have you ever wondered, does shampoo expire?

woman shampooing her hair in a white shower
(Image credit: Getty Images/Aleksandar Georgiev)

You might not have thought about it before but, does shampoo expire? The short answer is yes. 

We've become accustomed to diligently checking the expiration dates on our food, but it's unlikely that we never really question the expiration dates of our beauty and health products, for example, shampoo. Think about it, how often do you check the dates of your beauty products?

It may never cross your mind, as shampoo seems like one of those products you can rely on having an eternal shelf-life. But, sadly that isn’t the case. Shampoo does and can expire—even the best shampoo bars have an expiry date. 

Your shampoo habits

You're not alone if you have never worried about—let alone even considered—your shampoo’s expiration date. In reality, we're more likely to finish the bottle before the expiration date, but it's still best to keep an eye out for certain signs that may indicate that your shampoo has reached its expiration date. 

But these days, with the introduction of more natural, organic options with a much shorter shelf life, it is wise to get into the habit of checking your expiration dates and minding your storage habits to keep your bottles fresh. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your shower and your hair safer. 

Shampoo’s expiration date

Did you know that manufacturers of personal care products aren’t legally obligated to label their products with an expiration date? The good thing, though, is that there is an easy way to work this out. 

On the back of your favorite shampoo bottle, there should be a code that is written in a specific way. This code will be a number, most commonly 12 or 24, followed by a capital M. The letter stands for months, and the number represents the allotment of months the shampoo is designed to work properly. The time starts after you open the bottle, meaning you'll have to keep track of the expiration date yourself. That said, if you're able to make a bottle of shampoo last over a year (erm, tell us how you did it please) there is a high possibility that it has expired.  

Your shampoo ingredients matter

A shampoo’s expiration date will depend on its ingredients. While this will vary depending on different brands and formulas, you can expect that everyday, popular shampoos often contain the following:

- sodium lauryl sulfate
- sodium laureth sulfate
- dimethicone
- panthenol
- citric acid
- parabens
- cocamidopropyl betaine

These ingredients are in your shampoo and do a host of different things. They are cleaning agents, foaming agents and also help to extend the shelf life, for example. Their quantity levels vary depending on the benefits your shampoo claims to have, which can range from preventing dandruff, eliminating split ends, protecting from frizz, and general hair repair. However, it's worth noting that when you open your bottle, you expose these ingredients to oxygen, which can slowly diminish their abilities. Oxygen can also allow a slow growth of bacteria, reacting with your shampoo’s ingredients. 

What does the expiration date actually mean?

The expiration date indicates when a shampoo is no longer effective based on the benefits it claims to have. Potential dangers or health risks are minimal, but if you’re paying premium retail for your hair care, you'll want to use it before it’s no longer worth the price tag. Your shampoo should smell as delectable and luxurious as it did on the day you bought it. 

Does shampoo expire: Illustration to depict woman shampooing hair

(Image credit: Getty / CSA Images)

Signs that show your shampoo has gone bad

If you’re not keen on memorizing the exact time you open each bottle of shampoo you use, there are some easy signs you can look out for to keep expired products off your shelf. You might want to consider throwing away your bottle if you experience any of the following:

  • Your shampoo smells differently. You should be able to tell right away if your shampoo doesn’t smell fresh—it could even take on a rancid scent
  • The consistency has changed. If the consistency is off, or it's lumpy or extremely watery, it's likely that your shampoo has expired. 
  • The color has changed. Conditioner tends to be cloudy, whereas shampoo doesn't.
  • It doesn't do what it once did. If your shampoo no longer creates suds—like it used to—or leaves residue instead of rinsing off, it's probably expired. 

How to ensure you prolong your shampoo's shelf life

Remember, cosmetics tend to be sensitive to their environment, so it's likely that sunlight and heat will accelerate expiration. So, when you're lathering up, make sure you close the lid and place it in an area where it won't be exposed to direct sunlight. Ideally, you will want to store your shampoo in a cool and dark environment. It’s also best to ensure the product isn’t getting unnecessarily wet and the bottle isn’t damaged. 

If your shampoo is exposed to oxygen—for instance, If your shampoo’s pump or dispenser has become damaged causing you to open the top for every use—it will probably expire more quickly. It’s also worth noting that natural, organic shampoos may not last as long as traditional shampoos, as they are free from preservatives.

The My Imperfect Life team is all about helping you navigate your world. We bring you the latest on fashion, beauty, travel and wellness so you can live life on your terms.