When Do Essential Oils Expire? Shelf Life & Storage Tips

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You may have asked this question before, do essential oils ever expire?

There is some confusion around this issue as pure oils are not supposed to have an expiry date.

They can also be quite costly; it wouldn’t do to have your precious oils become unusable.

The problem is, while essential oils don’t expire, they do change over time.

If your oils become oxidized, you will no longer be able to use them as intended.

The Myth

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding essential oils is that only low-quality or watered-down oils will expire.

This isn’t true,

While essential oils don’t contain water, they do evaporate.

That’s why you can smell them.

The property of the oil will change over time as it evaporates and becomes more concentrated.

Another critical point is that your oils will begin to change from the moment they are exposed to air.

Oxidation is the most significant factor in the shelf-life of essential oils.

Just like fresh foods age quickly when you bite into them, oils will start aging as soon as you open them.

You know about antioxidants, right?

They fight the cellular damage in your body caused by exposure to oxygen.

Well, your oils are damaged by oxygen in the same way.

The Science

The thing is, it isn’t actually the oil that is damaged.

It is the constituents contained in the oil that are affected by oxygen.

Every oil has a different mix of constituents and a different composition.

It is currently impossible to know accurately how an oil is composed without testing it.

When oxidation occurs, oxygen reacts with the molecules in the oil and electrons are lost.

This means that the oil will change into something else.

What does it change into?

No one knows until it happens.

It depends on the amount of time since the oil was exposed to air, the particular constituents, room temperature, light exposure, and some other factors.

The only way to tell whether your oil has become oxidized is to have it tested once more.

Oil safety is really about the constituents.

The composition and amount of each constituent are the determining factors when making a decision about which oils to choose.

But, don’t let this scare you.

It may sound like some kind of ludicrous Frankenstein experiment is going on inside your oil bottles, but the most you can expect is that you the oil will no longer smell good and may irritate your skin.

Shelf Life

The shelf life of essential oils varies anywhere from 2 to 15 years, it depends on the type of oil, the ingredients and the way it is stored.

  • Monoterpenes like Lemon, Cypress and Grapefruit oils, tend to have a shelf life of around 2-3 years.
  • Oxides, like Rosemary and Eucalyptus, tend to have a shelf life of around 3-5 years.
  • Aldehydes, like Melissa and Lemongrass, will tend to last around 4-5 years.
  • Phenols, like Clovebud, will last around 4-6 years.
  • Monoterpenols, like Thyme, Rosewood and Basil, will tend to last 5-6 years.
  • Ketones, like Sage and Mugwort, will have a shelf life of around 5-7 years.
  • Ethers, like Nutmeg, Fennel and Anise, will last around 5-7 years.
  • Esters, like Wintergreen and Birch, will last around 5-7 years.
  • Sesquiterpenes, like Myrrh, Black Pepper and Ginger, will tend to last around 8-10 years.
  • Sesquiterpenols, like Sandalwood, should last around 10-15 years.

How To Tell If Your Essential Oils Have Expired

As oils age, they will begin to lose their aroma.

In some cases, the smell will just become weaker, and you will find yourself having to use more drops to get the same result as when it was fresh.

In other cases, the smell can change.

Some oils will begin to smell metallic or rancid, while others will start to smell like something else entirely.

If an oil smell has changed too much, it’s not worth saving, and you may as well throw it out.

But, if the smell is simply weaker, then hang on to it as it can still be useful.

Another sign that your oil is getting old, is that it becomes thick and sluggish.

This is generally a sign that it has been around for quite some time.

Really old oils will become hard.

That usually takes quite a few years though, so you’ll notice it happening as long as you are using your oil at least once in a blue moon.

The next thing to look for is cloudiness.

Oils will become cloudy or opaque, as they age.

This is a sign that the constituents of the oil have begun to change.

Not all cloudy oils are bad though, some oils have a waxy substance as part of their composition.

If you think your oil is getting old because it’s cloudy, let it sit on the shelf for a day or two and see if it settles.

If the cloudiness appears to settle, and form a layer of sediment in the bottom of the bottle, then this oil is still good.

This is not a sign of aging this is just the particular composition of that oil.

On the other hand, if the cloudiness doesn’t go away, then that is definitely a sign of old oil.

Quality of Essential Oils

Essential oils don’t contain any water.

This is crucial to know because it means that they don’t grow any mold or mildew.

If you find signs of things growing in your oil, then, you most likely have a cheap knock off.

Make sure to always purchase pure essential oils.

These have antiviral and antibacterial qualities, so even though oils can expire, it won’t be from going rancid in the traditional sense.

You can save money by taking the DIY route.

If you decide to blend your own essential oils, there are a few things to be aware of.

Mainly, that when you blend together different oils, the leftovers will have different expiration dates.

There’s no point trying to save money if you end up throwing out a whole bunch of expired oil that you forgot about.

You should also note that it is the lighter constituents in the oil that will evaporate the fastest.

If you’re making a blend for your skin, know that once the lighter constituents evaporate, the heavier constituents left behind will tend to be more irritating.

So, judge the expiration date of your oil by the lightest constituents that you add.

Factors That Affect Essential Oils

There are three main factors that affect how your essential oils will age.

Air – As already stated, oxygen is one of the biggest factors in aging oil.

From the moment you open your bottle, air will begin to interact with your essential oils.

It is similar to the way an apple starts to turn brown after you’ve bitten into it.

The best way to prevent damage from exposure to air, is by keeping the bottle cap screwed on tightly when you aren’t using your oil.

It’s a simple remedy but it works.

Heat – Room temperature is the next major factor affecting your oil.

The biggest problem with heat, is that it causes your oil to evaporate faster.

Of course, this can also be fixed by keeping the cap screwed on tightly as your oil can only evaporate when it’s exposed to air.

Light – Next is UV light.

UV rays have been shown to affect essential oils changing their constituents.

That is why you need to store your oils in dark-colored bottles.

What Are The Dangers?

The dangers posed by out-of-date oils are minimal.

Some oils will cause your skin to become red and irritated, or itchy if applied topically.

For this reason, If you believe that an oil is too old, or has expired, then you shouldn’t apply it to your skin.

As long as the oil still has a nice aroma, it can still be useful, but you may want to set it aside so that you don’t mix it up with your good oils.

Some oils can become toxic with age, but the risk is minimal, and as long as you aren’t consuming your oils, you really don’t need to worry about this.

What Can You Do With Old Oils?

Just because an oil has gone bad doesn’t mean that you should throw it out.

There are a number of ways that you can still use them, for instance, you can put a couple of drops into your shower to make washing more pleasant.

You can also add a couple of drops to a rag and put it into your drawer to make your clothes smell nice, or you could put a couple of drops into your wash ball when you do your washing.

Don’t let the oil come into contact with clothes though, as it could stay in them.

Another useful tip is to add a couple of drops to your vacuum cleaner bag, to help deal with the odor.

As long as the oil still smells alright, you can use it in candles or potpourri as well.

You could also put a couple of drops into it a dish of water place it on or near a heater so that it acts as a diffuser and fills the room with a nice aroma.

Older oils will not be as aromatic but they will still lift the mood of a room.

If you must dispose of the oil, a small 5 or 10 ml bottle can be placed straight into the trash, but a larger bottle should first be emptied out into the yard, and the oil covered over with dirt, before throwing away the bottle.

Also, don’t tip oils down the sink, as you don’t want them getting into the water supply and harming our natural vegetation.

Storing Essential Oils

The best bottles to use are dark amber-colored.

These do the best job of blocking UV rays from the sun.

Other bottles can be cobalt, green, orange or some other colors, but these are not as effective at blocking UV.

It’s best to switch your bottles out for dark amber ones whenever you can.

In order to keep your oils at an appropriate temperature, you will need to keep them somewhere dark and cool.

Never leave them on a window sill or sitting on the kitchen bench.

It might look aesthetically pleasing to see all your oils lined up around the house, but it will shorten their longevity.

The best place to keep your oils is in the refrigerator.

This will protect them from light and air while extending their shelf life to the maximum.

Some of your oils may become sluggish or solid from the cold, but they can be warmed up pretty easily.

Some can be warmed up just by holding the bottle in your hand for a minute, for others, you can place the bottle into warm water.

Never try to warm up a cold oil by placing it in direct sunlight as that shortens the oils shelf life, and defeats the purpose of keeping it refrigerated.

If you need somewhere else to keep your oils, you can keep them in a storage box.

Any sturdy box will do, just use one that is opaque.

You can keep your box of oils in a cupboard or a drawer.

It is better not to keep it on a shelf as it may be exposed to sunlight and excess heat.

Final Thoughts

All in all, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about your oils going bad.

I’ve covered all the basics here but, most likely, you won’t have to deal with expired oils.

The problem is rare enough that some people still think it is a myth that oils can go bad.

As long as you keep your oils in tightly-capped, in a cool, dark place, then you will get years of use out of them.

For more information about essential oils, check out some of the other articles on the site.

It’s been a delight to have you with us, be sure to let us know in the comments if you have any other information.

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