Does Hair Dye Expire? Should You Toss Your Dye?

Hair dye can be a lot of fun. You can turn your hair into various cool colors and do so many awesome looks. But anyone who dyes their hair knows there are safety concerns. Even when you use hair dye correctly, it can still be toxic. For example, using expired hair dye may come with some not-so-glamorous side effects.

Wait! Does hair dye expire?

Bottom line up front: If you’re in the situation where you find an old bottle of hair dye, know that it usually takes about three years for the chemical changes in the dye to take effect. This applies to dye that has been opened as well as unopened hair dye. If you accidentally used expired hair dye, wash out your hair immediately. Go to the doctor if you’re experiencing an allergic reaction. If the dye looks bad, have a professional correct your color.

hair dye

Does Hair Dye Expire?

Yes! Hair dye does expire. Most colors last three years on average. However, some factors may determine how long your dye will last. In addition, hair dye expiration depends on the brand, the formula, and whether or not it has been opened. Let’s go into some examples where hair dye expiration may vary.

Permanent vs. Demi vs. Semi-Permanent vs. Temporary Hair Color Expiration

Anyone who dyes their hair knows there are different types of hair dye out there. These include permanent, demi-permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary. Do these different formulations effect when a hair dye expires? Yes and no. Let’s look at some common examples.

  • Permanent. Permanent hair color usually contains more chemicals than other hair dyes. However, you can find permanent hair dye free of ammonia and other harsh ingredients. That’s why the quality of the dye is the primary indicator of how long it will last until it’s expired.
  • Demi-permanent and semi-permanent. Demi and semi-permanent hair color have their differences, but these formulas are both very similar. These dyes usually contain pigment and other ingredients such as conditioners — usually not containing the harsh ingredients found in permanent hair dye. Therefore, these dyes typically last a little longer.
  • Temporary. Temporary hair color is the weakest of all of these dyes, only dyeing the surface of your hair. Because of this, these usually expire rather quickly.

Does Unopened Hair Dye Expire?

I’ve been in this situation before. You’re doing a major clean-up in your bathroom and found some unopened hair dye. So, is it still good?

I suggest looking at the “best before” date on the packaging. Some have the symbol of an open container with a number. This signifies how many months the dye will last. If the date has passed, I suggest tossing out the dye — even if it’s unopened.

What if your dye doesn’t have a “best before” date or if you don’t remember when you purchased the dye? I suggest reaching out to the company. Some companies formulate their dye, so it lasts longer. However, I say play it safe and toss your hair dye if it’s been three years and you never opened it.

Wait! If I never opened the hair dye, you may think, why should I throw it out? Hair dye comprises different chemicals that change over time. Some of the things that may happen to your dye if left unused include oxidation, moisture retention, and even packaging damage. The way you store your dye affects its longevity, as well. For example, keeping your dye under the light may expire faster than if you stored it in a dark place.

What if I Have Unused Hair Dye?

There may be a situation when you purchased an extra bottle, only for some to be leftover. What do you do with it? There’s nothing wrong with keeping a little bit of unused hair dye. Again, the same rules apply — you can store hair dye for up to three years. Make sure you store the extra dye in a place that’s cool in temperature and away from light.

hair dyeing of woman

How to Know if Your Hair Dye Is Expired

While you should throw out any dye you suspect is expired, maybe you’re the type who doesn’t like to waste products. My mom is that way, so I understand! If that’s your concern, there are a few ways you can tell if the hair dye you used is no longer good.

First, smell it. If bacteria and fungi grow in the product, it will develop an off-smell. If the dye smells fine, look at the product. If the dye is in a tube, dispense a little bit in a bowl. Look for these signs:

  • Streaky color
  • Color different than what’s on the packaging
  • Faded color
  • Caking color
  • Odd texture

Some packaging may get ruined over time. The bottle may start to leak, crack, and dent. If the logo and artwork on the packaging are faded, this is usually a sure sign that the packaging is too old.

What if You Used Expired Hair Dye?

Let’s say you dyed your hair and realized you may have used expired dye. How would you know you used expired hair dye? Should you be concerned?

First, let’s bust some myths. Fortunately, expired hair dye shouldn’t damage your hair any worse than non-expired hair dye. If your hair falls out, changes texture, or suffers breakage after using the dye, the dye itself was likely too harsh on your hair.

The most common sign your hair dye is expired is the dye won’t work. This means your hair color won’t change due to the dye being ineffective. But there are some dangers to using expired hair dye.

Turns a Different Color

In addition to the dye not working, the other main sign you used expired hair dye is your hair turned a different color. This can be a greenish color, though any type of color other than what the packaging represents can signify your dye was expired. Examples include a darker color or any different color. A serious discoloration is more likely to occur if your hair is originally blonde or gray before dyeing it.

Why do expired hair dyes change color? This happens due to a couple of different reasons. Oxidation and changes in chemical makeup are the most common reasons why.

hair color expired

Doesn’t Have Good Coverage

Another common effect that expired dye causes is poor coverage, especially if you have gray hair. Even if you don’t have gray hair, you may notice there’s no change in your color. If you suspect your dye expired and gray coverage is your biggest concern, it’s best to throw it out and buy a new hair dye.

Frizzy Hair

Most hair dyes include conditioners to leave your hair feeling silky smooth. But what if your hair is highly frizzy after dyeing it? Maybe the dye contained harsh chemicals your hair doesn’t like, or you bleached your hair too much. But you could have also used expired hair dye. Maybe the pigment in the dye didn’t expire, but the conditioning ingredients did. This will leave you with frizzy hair or, at worst, damaged hair.

Fades Quickly

Let’s say you used expired hair dye that still had strong pigment. You’re in the clear, right? Not so fast. If your hair color was intense at first but faded only after a couple of days, this could be a sign you used expired hair dye. Expired dye fades faster than non-expired dye, so it’s best to throw out any dye past its prime.


At the absolute worst, using expired hair dye may cause serious irritation. If the irritation is bad, it can feel like your scalp is on fire. At worst, the irritation can result in scalp damage resulting in hair loss. This happens because oxidation changes the chemical makeup. However, hair dye expiration isn’t always the cause of scalp damage when dyeing hair. Even if your dye is brand new, scalp burning can occur. This means you were allergic to an ingredient in the dye.

irritation on the head

What to Do If You Use Expired Hair Dye

First, don’t panic. Sure, the thought of scalp damage is pretty scary. Fortunately, the problems caused by using expired hair dye are usually not life-threatening. Wash out the hair dye immediately if you experience certain side effects, such as burning or itching scalp.

You may have ended up with discolored hair, hair damage, or even hair loss. That means it’s time to take a trip to the hair salon. Sure, it may be expensive to fix your hair, but that’s better than dealing with gross hair color and a head full of damaged hair.

These problems will require a trip to the doctor’s office or clinic:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Itching scalp
  • Red scalp
  • Burning sensation on your scalp

Alternatives to Hair Dye

What if your hair dye expired? If you don’t want to grab a new bottle, you can always choose a natural alternative to hair dye. These include:

  • Chamomile tea
  • Lemon juice
  • Beet juice
  • Carrot juice
  • Coffee

Keep in mind that some of these alternatives will lighten your hair, and others will darken your hair. Always research your natural hair dye alternative first.

Do Some Hair Dyes Last Longer than Others?

The advice I mentioned here applies to all hair dyes. But all brands and dyes are different. It’s best to buy the highest quality hair dye to ensure it will last. Here’s some advice on buying hair dye.

Buying high-quality hair dye is more critical than shelf-life concerns. Buying low-quality dye can result in the following:

  • Uneven color
  • Poor color payoff
  • Irritated scalp and allergic reactions
  • The incorrect color shown on the packaging
  • Dull and dry hair

Always research the dye before buying. Make sure the dye has 100% gray coverage and the color you want. Read the instructions and make sure they’re easy to follow.

Check the longevity of the dye. Permanent and demi-permanent dye should last three months, while semi-permanent dye should last between one and two months. Read the ingredients to ensure the dye doesn’t contain dangerous chemicals. You should especially pay attention to ingredients that cause allergic reactions, such as PPD.

hair dye

When to Go to the Salon

If all else fails, skip the box dye and go to the salon. Salons use professional-quality dye that contains fewer dangerous chemicals and causes less damage to your hair.

Plus, when a pro colors your hair, you’ll often get better results. This is especially true if you’re getting a specific style, such as a balayage. Going to the same stylist also comes with benefits — they get to know your hair and will find out what works for you. Plus, they can recommend a hair care routine that coincides with your hair type and style.

Here are some more benefits of getting your hair dyed at a salon:

  • Get the results you want
  • Even color coverage
  • More gray coverage
  • Better to go to a professional for specific looks such as highlights, bleaching, and balayage
  • Less hair damage risk
  • The color usually lasts longe


Question: My hair dye expired. How should I dispose of it?

Answer: If there’s only a small amount of dye, wash it down the sink. If it’s a full package, see if the manufacturer recommends a disposal method.

Question: I just mixed hair dye, but an emergency came up. How long can I leave the mixed dye before using it?

Answer: You should always use mixed dye immediately. If something came up, throw it out. I understand it sucks, but you don’t want to risk using bad hair dye.

Question: Can I do anything to improve the shelf life of hair dye?

Answer: Keep the package closed until you’re ready to use the dye. Store the unopened package in a dark place.

Bottom Line

It’s lots of fun dyeing your hair, and you may prefer dyeing your tresses yourself.

But what if you found an old bottle of hair dye? Is it still good? Hair dye does expire, but it usually takes about three years for the chemical changes to take effect. However, the exact hair dye expiration depends on the brand and the type of dye. That’s why it’s best to pay attention to the expiration date listed on the packaging. If your dye doesn’t have an expiration date, remember to toss it after three years — even if you haven’t opened it.

If you’re the type who doesn’t like to waste products, I suggest going to the salon. That way, you don’t risk wasting money, and you can rest assured knowing the stylist will use a dye that works for your hair.

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