I decided to clean out my bathroom cabinets the other day. Since they are really deep, I pulled out some things I hadn’t seen in years, including a bottle of bubble bath. According to the date on the bottle, it had expired two years ago!
You may be wondering if bubble bath really expires. Yes, bubble bath does expire. The type of preservatives in your product determine the date of the shelf-life on your bubble bath. If the product uses chemical preservatives it usually expires three years from the date of manufacturing. If the product uses all-natural preservatives the shelf-life can be as short as one year. However, even when the expiration date passes, you still might opt to use your bubble bath product.
When judging whether your bubble bath has expired, there are several considerations you’ll want to keep in mind.
What Exactly Does the Expiration Date Mean?
The expiration date is stamped on the bubble bath at the time it is manufactured. Most cosmetics and bath products have expiration dates from one year to three years. For example, bar soap typically expires between 18 months-3 years, while bath oil expires in one year, and bath gels and body washes in 3 years.
What Are the Preservatives in Bubble Bath?
Preservatives are put into bath products to extend their shelf life. They prevent bacteria, yeast and other microbes from growing on products that contain or interact with water. Preservatives degrade over time, so even if I can’t see something sinister growing in my bubble bath—and even though it still smells faintly of coconut—personally, I’m not going to risk bathing in mold.
Some preservatives are stronger and present more health risks than others. For example, tetrasodium EDTA and methylchloroisothiazolinone (MIT) can speed up gene mutation. Phenoxyethanol is associated with lung, eye and skin irritation. Other preservatives can even release formaldehyde! These sort of preservatives will keep a product intact for at least three years in an opened bottle.
So while they preserve the shelf-life of your bubble bath for longer, would you really want to soak in them?
Look for all-natural products with preservatives like caprylyl glycol, which is derived from coconuts and is much gentler than chemical preservatives. Another natural preservative is citric acid, which is derived from plants. All-natural preservatives usually give a product a shelf-life closer to one year.
Research Your Ingredients
No matter what type of bubble bath you use, it’s probably a good idea to educate yourself on the ingredients, including the preservative in your bottle. Two excellent resources for deciphering the ingredients in your bubble bath are The Good Guide and EWG Skin Deep.
To Determine True Bubble Bath Expiration Date, Consider Other Factors
There is the expiration date printed on your bottle of bubble bath, and then there is the true date that your bubble bath is no longer safe to use. Whatever the preservative in your bubble bath, it will likely degrade over time. Once the expiration date passes, the product is more likely to host unwanted microscopic critters. But before you dump your product down the drain, there are a few other factors to consider:
How Did You Store Your Bubble Bath?
Ironically, most cosmetics and medicines that we keep in the bathroom are supposed to be stored in a cool, dry place. At least you don’t want to keep them on the bathroom counter, where they are constantly steamed by your bath or shower.
If you stored your bubble bath in the back of a cabinet like I did, it’s probably been cool enough. However, if it’s been sitting in a pretty basket on the top of the toilet or on the vanity, then it’s more likely that the preservatives have degraded. Any fragrance may have become milder or disappeared.
Have You Opened Your Bubble Bath?
I hadn’t opened my bottle of bubble bath before. That’s what sometimes happens when items make their way into the dark netherworld of the back of my bathroom cabinet; they basically become time capsules. Anyway, because my bubble bath had never been opened, it was stored airtight. When I did open it up, it still had a nice scent of coconut.
If you had opened your bubble bath previously, then it’s more likely to have expired within three years.
Does Your Bubble Bath Smell Okay?
Of course, if you detect an odor that is anything less than delicious, you need to dump that sucker pronto. Even if the expiration date is years away. Enough said.
Will Your Bubble Bath Still Be Bubbly?
The class of ingredients that makes bubble bath frothy is called surfactants. You know how oil and water typically separate? Well, the surfactants help the grease in the bubble bath grab onto the soap molecules in the tub. When you add air, best accomplished by pouring the bubble bath just under the running water, you’re able to create a bubble.
If your bubble bath is past the expiration date but the surfactant still works and it doesn’t smell rancid, you may want to go ahead and indulge anyway. That is, if you’re the daring type and you would drink your milk a day or two past expiration as long as it smells okay.
But then there are people like me, who can imagine what’s going on beneath the surface. You know, the type who know just enough to be dangerous? I doubt I could relax in the tub wondering if I’d made the right choice.
Sulfo Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) vs. Sulfo Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa)
These are two types of surfactants commonly used in bubble bath recipes to produce foamy, long-lasting, gorgeous bubbles. And though their chemical names sound the same, don’t be fooled!
SLS is a chemical that can irritate the skin. It’s much, MUCH cheaper than it’s superior, natural alternative: SLSa, which comes from coconut oil and palm oil.
Stored in a cool, dry place, SLSa will last two years without an added preservative. This means that with a preservative in the bubble bath recipe, your product could continue to produce bubbles for even longer.
But there’s one easy way to test the bubble action on an expired bubble bath product: place a capful under a running tap and see what magic happens.
So Does Bubble Bath Expire?
Yes, it absolutely does. But depending on the level of risk you are willing to take, you may want to give an expired bottle a sniff. If you don’t detect anything rancid, then go ahead, fill ‘er up and enjoy!