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Does Hair Gel Expire?

Before you put that old, crusty, smelly, off-color gel in your hair, stop and ask yourself, does hair gel expire? Most cosmetic products do.

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Does Hair Gel Expire?

Hair gel does expire – lots of hair gels even carry a “best by” date somewhere on the bottle or label.

For plenty of guys, finishing a bottle of gel before its expiration date is no problem at all. But if you do use expired hair gel, you put yourself at a higher risk of scalp irritation, tangled hair, hair breakage, and bad-smelling hair. 

How Do You Know If Hair Gel Is Expired?

Your gel won’t grow mold or attract flies when it begins to expire (hopefully). The signs are more subtle than that. Things to watch out for:

• Smell. Take a deep whiff when you pop off the lid. When it comes to cosmetics, scents either fade or become more pungent when they start to expire. If your gel smells like nothing, or if it smells too strong, it’s expired.

• Texture. Is the gel globbier or more liquid-y than when you first bought it? Has the oily part floated to the top, with the jelly part on the bottom? If the consistency of the gel feels wrong, it’s probably time to throw it out. You wouldn’t want that in your hair anyway.

• Color. Cosmetics tend to fade in color over time. Try to remember the color of the product when you first bought it. If your gel was once lime green, but now it looks yellow, then it’s starting to turn. 

You can also use some common sense to figure out if your hair gel is expired. Is the bottle covered in dust? Have you forgotten the last time you used the gel? It’s probably been sitting in the back of your cabinet expiring for a while.

How Long Does Hair Gel Last?

Most hair gels last 3-5 years. 

If you buy all-natural products, you should plan for an earlier expiration date. Natural ingredients are perishable, so they usually last less than 2 years.

If you buy high-hold gels with lots of synthetic ingredients, you’ll get closer to the 5 year mark before you start to notice any signs that your hair gel is expiring.

But realistically, when you buy a bottle of hair gel and use it consistently, you shouldn’t have to worry about the expiration date. You’ll go through the package in 3-6 months. And if you don’t finish the gel within a year, is it really worth keeping around? It sounds like it’s not your favorite hair product. Maybe you’d prefer pomade instead of gel.

What Happens When You Use Expired Hair Gel?

Usually, it won’t be a catastrophe if you use expired hair gel. Your hair won’t fall out (probably), and you won’t get a raging scalp burn (probably). Some of the most common symptoms:

  1. Expired gel is hard to wash out

Once it’s in your hair, you’ll have a difficult time washing out expired gel. It’ll take some extra scrubbing, combing, and possibly an apple cider vinegar rinse to get the gel out of your hair.

  1. Expired gel will tangle your hair

Remember how the consistency and texture of expired gel changes? As it gets older, gel is more likely to give you crusty, tangled hair. It won’t really work like gel anymore – expired gel is an entirely different product.

  1. Detangling expired gel can break hair

If you’re not gentle, you can tear and break your hair while you’re trying to wash out expired gel and comb your hair.

  1. Expired gel won’t make your hair smell good

It might even make your hair smell bad. Hopefully you catch a whiff of it before you start lathering it into your hair. It won’t have that fresh hair product smell.

  1. Expired gel can cause scalp irritation

At its worst, expired gel can cause itchiness, irritation, and a breakout. Your hair won’t fall out, but you may need to use a dandruff shampoo or a folliculitis shampoo for several days afterwards.

When Should You Throw Out Hair Gel?

If you want to stay on the safe side, you should throw out hair gel two years after you’ve bought it, or a year after you’ve unsealed it. Whichever comes first.

Personally, if I don’t finish my gel fast enough, I like to throw it out when the bottle starts to get grimey. Dust, toothpaste marks, and water stains are all good signs that your gel has been sitting underneath your sink for too long.

You can also check the bottle for an expiration date – lots of cosmetic products carry a “best by” or “use by” date somewhere on the bottle. You might need to check the ingredients and directions chart.

How To Make Hair Gel Last Longer

You can push the lifespan of your hair gel by leaving the airtight seal on until you use it, capping it tightly in between uses, and keeping it in the fridge between uses.

But if you’re holding an expired bottle of gel right now, there’s not much you can do to “revive” it. You’ll just have to plan ahead and treat your next bottle better.

Consider buying smaller containers of gel next time. It’s tempting to get bigger bottles, but start small and prove to yourself that you can use up your gel quickly, long before the expiration date. Think of it this way, too: fresh gel is a lot better for your hair and scalp. It’s better to buy small bottles every 1-3 months than a big bottle that you’ll have on your shelf for a year.

And most of all, know how to use hair gel to make it last. The biggest mistake that guys make with hair gel is overusing it. If you’re plowing through bottles of gel, you’re probably overdoing it.

Frank Edwards is a men's grooming & style expert who is "internet famous" for being able to simplify complicated grooming routines into easy, yet effective rituals any man can do. As a professional analyst, he has spent years researching the biggest brands, products, experts, best practices, and breaking news in the space. He takes this analysis, tests it out on himself, and then documents everything in his writing. As a result, his experience-based articles are considered by some to be the gold standard in men's grooming and men's style.