Yep, hair color, like nearly every other cosmetic product on the market, eventually expires. The industry rule of thumb is that unopened hair dye should be used within 3 years of its manufacture date.
So sure, that's good to know. But what if you don't know when it was manufactured, how long it sat on the shelf before you bought it, or even when you bought it? What if you've opened the box, but never actually used the product?
Unfortunately, unless there's something that's obviously wrong with the hair dye (the color or consistency is wrong, or it smells literally or figuratively fishy) it's pretty difficult to figure out if a box of hair dye is past its prime or not.
The biggest reason why is also the most obvious: the FDA doesn't actually require cosmetic companies to list an expiration date on products.
In the US, cosmetics companies are largely expected to regulate themselves. And depending on who you talk to, this is either a very good or a very bad thing.
Supporters of this kind of policy argue that it supports the potential for innovation among creators and formulators -- less red tape allows for the newest, best products to reach consumers more quickly. And it's true that this kind of policy levels the playing field between giant megacompanies and independent, passion-driven brands (such as ours, hi!).
But people who want more regulation of cosmetics say that this freedom actually hurts consumers. Sure, a product might be available to people less quickly. But will that product be safe?
To be fair, the FDA does provide some regulation with hair dye, since it's a more potentially dangerous product than, say, a shampoo or a mascara. And while hair dyes don't need to be tested and proved to be "safe" by the FDA before they reach the market, the FDA has the power to demand that a brand pull a specific hair dye from store shelves.
Of course, this only happens if the FDA can prove that the product is actually unsafe (meaning, lots of consumers complained to the FDA about adverse effects, like hair loss or scabby scalps).
But if it's determined that adverse effects occurred because the consumer messed up, the company might not have to deal. So if your hair dye causes burning, scabbing, et cetera because it's expired or otherwise corrupted due to poor storage on your part (more on this later), the company might not be held viable, because this could be considered a user error.
Even though they're also, you know, not required to give you an expiration date. It's bananas, we know.
But here's the good news: despite not being required to provide an expiration date, some companies do it anyway, in the spirit of consumer transparency. We follow this policy, and hope that other indie brands will follow suit.
If you still have the packaging that your hair dye was sold in, check and see if the expiration date is listed (or some advice about how soon after buying/opening the dye should be used). Even if it's not provided with the product, you might be able to find some extra info on the manufacturer's website.
Other companies only provide the batch code, a code that allows that company to track the batch of product that yours was manufactured in, which you can (kind of sort of) use to find how old your product is. We say kind of sort of, because batch codes aren't generally there for the consumer's ease -- they exist more to make it easier for the company to recall products en masse, should it become apparent that there's some sort of problem in a specific batch.
If your product has a batch code, you can look up when it was manufactured using websites like Check Fresh.
So what do you do if you don't have the manufacture date, the expiration date, or even the batch code of your hair dye?
You do the sensory test.
Does it still smell like you'd normally expect a hair dye to smell? If there's anything abnormally stinky going on (even stinkier than the normal smell of dye), it might be rancid.
And does it look as you'd expect it to look? If the peroxide has gone bad, it may have changed color or become diluted looking. If anything looks more watery than you'd expect it to be, play it safe and ditch the dye.
Products like hair dyes tend to do best when they're stored in dry, dark, and moderately cool locations. If it's been stored in a steamy bathroom for several years, water may have infiltrated the packaging. Take caution if the packaging looks like water has infiltrated it in any way that could alter the product.
Has the dye ever been stored in an area where it could have frozen? Freezing temperatures can cause the ingredients in hair dye to separate once thawed, making it potentially unsafe for you to use.
And if you're really unsure, you can further play detective by googling the product to try to determine if it's still being sold in stores. If your particular box of dye doesn't have any user reviews on Amazon, Makeupalley, et cetera, from the past three years, it might be past its prime -- the manufacturer has ceased creating it for a longer period of time than it's been in your possession.
Wanna learn even more about haircare? Here's what you should check out next:
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