Woman holding her colored hair

Does Hair Dye Expire After Opening It?

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We’ve all wanted to dye our hair a different color at one point in our lives. A few years ago, I didn’t want to pay a lot of money to have a professional stylist have my hair dyed, so I bought a box of hair color thinking I could do it on my own. It wasn’t the best first try, but after reading and watching online guides on how to properly dye your hair, I got better at dyeing my own hair.

The other day, I found an extra box of hair dye I bought three years ago. So, I asked the question of whether or not hair dye does expire even when unopened. And here’s what I discovered.

The Art of Hair Dyeing

Hair dyeing or hair coloring is the popular practice of changing your natural hair color into either natural-looking (e.g. black, brown, blonde) or unnatural (purple, bright red, blue) colors. There are no medical benefits to this, and it’s merely for aesthetic purposes.

Hair dyeing is a common practice for older people who want to cover their graying hair. But it’s also used by those whose hair has been discolored by hair treatments or natural sun bleaching. And there are those who simply want to try out new hair colors for fashion.

Hair dyeing dates back to ancient Celtic and Greek practices as early as 60 BC. Because they didn’t have the hair dye we know today, they used organic dyes from plants like henna, senna, turmeric, leeks, and other substances.

Today, hair dyes are available for both natural hair colors and unnatural colors of various shades and styles. It can be done by a professional hairdresser, or you can purchase a box of hair dye and do it at home for cheaper.

Hair Dye Applications

While hair color is traditionally applied as one color for the entire head of hair, there have been various types that became popular over the decades. In fact,  it’s now possible to apply hair dye on eyebrows to match a full head of dyed hair (though some may have polarizing opinions on it).

Permanent Hair Color

Permanent hair color contains ammonia and must be mixed with an oxidizing agent to permanently stick to hair. How long permanent hair color lasts depends on several factors like hair dye quality, hair, and temperature, but can generally last between four to six weeks before it starts to fade.

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Demi- and Semi-Permanent Hair Color

Demi and semi-permanent hair color are not as strong as permanent hair color. It has a different non-ammonia alkaline agent and has a lower hydrogen peroxide concentration.

Because of this, demi-permanent hair dyes won’t bleach your hair, but it won’t be effective in dyeing your hair lighter colors. So, if you’re naturally a brunette, using demi-permanent blonde hair dye will barely have an effect unless you bleach your hair beforehand.

Semi-permanent hair dye, on the other hand, has little to no hydrogen peroxide and ammonia, thus providing the least amount of damage. They only partially penetrate the hair shaft, which means that it doesn’t have a strong hold and can disappear within a handful of shampoo washes.

Temporary Hair Color

Temporary hair color has the weakest stay power and easily gets removed after one wash. These are not necessarily dyes and can come in foam, sprays, and gels. This is meant for hair colors that aren’t expected to be kept on for long, such as costume parties.

Does Hair Dye Expire?

Yes, hair dye can expire. Some hair dye products have packaging labels that include when you should use the product before. If the expiry date starts after the hair dye is opened but it remains closed, it’s a safe estimate to give your hair dye a three-year expiry date.

As hair dye stays on your shelf for longer, the quality and effectivity of the color decrease. For example, if your box dye promises vibrant red hair, this will be unlikely if you’re using an expired product.

How to Tell If Hair Dye Is Expired

Depending on your country’s laws on cosmetics and where the manufacturer is based, you can tell if hair dye is expired whether the box is closed or opened.

For Unopened Hair Dye

For unopened boxes of hair dye, you can tell it has expired based on the “Best Before” or “Use Before” date indicated on the packaging. There should be a month and year indicated when hair dye is still good to use. So even if you never open the box, if the date indicated on the box has already passed, your hair dye is not safe to use anymore.

Some hair dyes may claim to have no expiration dates. But for those that have (usually for two to three years, if left unopened), it’s best to follow the expiration date. Even if you haven’t touched the product inside the packaging, elements like moisture, oxidation, sunlight exposure, and packaging damage can have an effect on the product and how well it dyes your hair.

For Opened Hair Dye

For opened boxes, look for the period-after-opening or the PAO symbol. This is the symbol of an opened cosmetics container with a number followed by the letter M indicated on it.

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This indicates how long a cosmetic product is good for after it’s opened. This symbol can be found in other cosmetic products and can tell you whether or not your shampoo or conditioner is expired.

If you look at your hair dye and see that this symbol says “12M,” for example, it means that your hair dye is only good up to 12 months after you opened the package. The number indicates the months, and ‘M’ stands for the word ‘months’.

Hair dyes have a shorter shelf life once they’re opened compared to when they’re left unopened. When manufacturers package their hair dyes, their process seals in the dye in the quality they want their consumers to receive.

Once that package is opened, there’s no telling how well that consumer will re-seal the remaining product, so it’s possible the product can be exposed to external elements like bacteria, air, water, and other materials. This can affect the dye’s quality and safety to use on a person.

Hair Dyes with No Expiration Date

Some hair dyes do not come with an expiration date. This is technically true that it will never expire if you leave it unopened, but it comes with a caveat. It will never expire if you leave it unopened or opened, but you need to keep it properly stored.

To keep your hair dye safe, place it in a cool and dark area away from direct sunlight. Keep it away from moisture, and avoid placing it in a humid room to prevent moisture build-up. If used, avoid contaminating the main packaging for the dye by only squeezing out when you need onto a clean bowl before quickly and tightly re-sealing the container.

What Happens If I Use Expired Hair Dye?

While it’s unlikely that using expired hair dye will have life-threatening effects, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You could end up with unwanted side effects, including hair damage, discolored hair, hair loss, or other damages that could require you to get more expensive hair treatments to get it fixed.

This applies to all kinds of hair dyes, be it permanent or semi-permanent. Even the hair dyes your professional stylist uses won’t be as effective if it’s reached its expiry date.

At worst, you may experience other negative effects apart from damaged hair. These can include:

  • Itchy scalp and surrounding skin on your head and neck
  • Allergic reaction
  • Tingling or burning sensation on your scalp and skin
  • Reddish skin

How to Apply Hair Dye

The best way to get the look you’re going for is to go to a professional stylist. A decent hair dye treatment can range between $50 and go as much as $150, depending on the length of your hair, the hair dye used, and how difficult the style you want is.

In comparison, the cost of a box of hair dye ranges between $5 to $10. It’s definitely a huge price difference, but when you consider the skill of the stylist and the type of product they use, it’s worth paying the additional money to avoid getting it wrong and accidentally damaging your hair.

But if you feel like you have the skills to handle a box of hair dye, here’s a video on the basics of dying your hair. Naturally, if you’re going for an ombre or balayage hair color, it’s going to be much more difficult than this.

How to Maintain Your Hair Color

After dyeing your hair, you will need to take extra steps to maintain it. Otherwise, the color will fade quickly or the chemicals used can have a drying and damaging effect on your hair.

  • Use shampoos and conditioners specifically made for colored hair. This can prevent the color from fading too fast. You can buy these in your supermarket, cosmetics stores, or online.
  • Make sure your shampoos are sulfate-free, as these can fade your color.
  • After showering, just before your hair gets dry, use leave-in treatments. Ideally, your serum should have UV-features to prevent sun-bleaching if you’re going outdoors.
  • Avoid going to swimming pools. If you have to go swimming, use a latex head cap to prevent wetting your hair.
  • Avoid using styling appliances that use heat (e.g. hairdryers, flat irons, curlers, etc.). When drying your hair, either towel-dry or air-dry your hair. If you really need to style your hair, apply a heat-protection serum and let it set before using your appliances.

Choosing to dye your hair is a huge step in aesthetics and self-expression. But as long as you do it right and avoid expired hair dye products, you can get both hair color and healthy hair.

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