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.

I never got around to DIY-ing my hair, and found the same hair color I bought – three years later. So, I asked the question whether or not hair dye does expire even when unopened. 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. There are no medical benefits to this, and it’s merely for aesthetic purposes. This is common for older people who want to cover gray or white hair, people whose hair has been discolored by hair treatments or natural sun bleaching, or 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.

Woman flipping her pink hair
Source: Unsplash

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 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.

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, 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.

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.

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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