Allocate time to take inventory of the products in your bathroom cabinet. I bet you have a heap of products; some that you love and most of which you sort of use. It is probably safe to presume that most of the products in your cabinet have been there for a long time.
How long is too long to keep your products in your growing arsenal? Rumor has it that products can expire over time. Rather than assuming this to be true, it is best to contact the experts to verify the facts in order to continue your product junkie habits safely and effectively. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the go to source for setting guidelines to protect public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, the nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and other products. According to the FDA, cosmetic ingredients are not required to put forth an expiration date. Here’s why:
Shelf lives typically vary between 12-24 months for hair related products within the United States. The European Union's Cosmetic Directive, however only requires expiration dating for products whose "minimum durability" is less than 30 months. Beyond the shelf life determination, it is unknown whether or not the cosmetics may be safe or effective for use. According to Cosmetic Test Labs, the judgment is “based on shelf life studies that consist of measurements like color, odor, pH, microbial contaminant levels, phase-stability, viscosity, texture, etc.” After the expiring shelf life, these factors may be compromised. In which case you will see change in smell, texture, and other unintended reactions. A close eye should be kept on the shorter shelf lives of “all natural” products that contain plant-derived substances conducive to microbial growth. An even closer eye should be given to products with alternative preservatives or products with no preservative at all.
It is in the company’s best interest to choose an honest shelf life to protect the consumer and itself. However, it is important to note that these dates are essentially set as a “rule of thumb” to follow. Products that are stored in unsuitable conditions could speed up the shelf life of the product (e.g. exposure to high heat like a product being left in the car for hours on a hot day). Similarly, products stored in ideal conditions may extend its shelf life.
No matter what shelf life is given on the bottle, after 12-24 months of any product, use your best judgment by observing any change in color, odor, and consistency. Be on the lookout for phase-separation, like oil and water in shampoos and conditioners. Finally, regardless of the product you are considering or your hair type, follow the traditional warning that goes like this: when in doubt, throw it out!