The mesmerizing scents of essential oils are often used for lotions and soap making.
The applications of these oils are numerous and the benefits are extensive. Perhaps one of the reasons that such oils are top-rated is the fact that they are all-natural.
One common misconception is that these naturally occurring oils do not go bad, but this assumption is not correct.
- Do essential oils expire?
- How long do essential oils last?
- The estimated shelf life of some popular essential oils
- Things that affect the shelf life of essential oils
- How to tell if an essential oil has gone bad?
- Expired essential oils and how to deal with them
- Can you use expired essential oils?
- What to do with expired essential oils?
- What are the dangers of using expired or oxidized essential oils?
- Essential oils to avoid if oxidized
- How long do essential oils last once opened?
- What about carrier oils?
- Tips to preserve the freshness of your favorite essential oils
Do essential oils expire?
Contrary to what most people think, essential oils can go bad after a while. One of the reasons why consumers barely think about the expiry date is because these oils generally have a fairly long shelf life.
Most oils can easily last over a year, while others can go as far as two to six years and even up to ten years.
So, as a consumer, it is crucial to make sure you check the validity dates of any oils that you purchase. An expired essential oil can be hazardous, as the chemical constitution of the oil can change and increasing the levels of toxicity.
Its natural constitution determines the shelf life of essential oil. That explains why some oils can last for as long as one year, while others can last for three years.
Some oils can last for six years, yet others can go beyond ten years.
It makes you wonder why it is so.
The answer lies in the fact that each plant that essential oil is derived from has a different chemical constitution. Such that, every oil will end up having a different composition of chemical compounds.
There are specific compounds that affect the longevity of a given oil. Some of these compounds evaporate more readily than others, hence affecting the shelf life of an oil.
These compounds are:
So you will find that generally, essential oils that have a lot of monoterpenes or oxides will tend to have a lesser shelf life of typically one to two years. While those oils that contain phenol in them will have a much longer shelf life of approximately three years or so.
Essential oils that can last for four to five years will usually have a combination of compounds such as ketones, monoterpenols, and esters.
Those oils that contain the compound sesquiterpenes or sesquiterpenols have a longer shelf life of approximately six-year and beyond.
In a nutshell, the natural shelf life of essential oil will depend on the combination of chemical compounds that it naturally has.
The estimated shelf life of some popular essential oils
Now that we have a simple understanding of why some essential oils will have a longer shelf life compared to others, you are better placed to make informed oil purchases that suit your needs.
Here’s a chart that gives you a good idea of the estimated shelf life of some popular oils:
Things that affect the shelf life of essential oils
When essential oils are handled in the right way, the shelf life can be increased significantly. On the same token, when oils are not handled properly, their shelf life can be drastically reduced.
When we talk about handling, we mean the tools that are used when applying and storing essential oils.
Three major properties affect the longevity of an oil.
These properties are:
Oxygen causes oxidation in your essential oil. That is where oxygen finds its way into your essential oil and alters the natural chemical balances of your oil.
That can be hazardous because an oxidized oil has a heightened sensitivity to the skin.
You have noticed that most packaging bottles for essential oils are amber. The reason for this is the ability of amber colored bottles to keep off UV light out.
When UV rays find their way into the bottle, they promote free radicals in the essential oil causing it to go bad sooner.
One of the reasons you can smell essential oils is because of their volatile compounds that quickly evaporate.
When essential oils are exposed to heat, compounds evaporate faster.
Steam distilled essential oils withstand heat slightly better than their CO₂ extracts, which are more prone to heat damage.
How to tell if an essential oil has gone bad?
Is it even possible to tell whether an essential oil has gone bad?
If you make your essential oils, a rule of thumb is to always put a sticker on the date of extraction for a given batch. With the help of the earlier chart, you can be able to approximate by what date the essential may go bad.
If you are buying oil off the shelf in a physical or on an online store, be sure to check the distillation and expiry date.
Unfortunately, most brands do not provide a distillery date on their packaging as this can quickly help you determine whether the oil has expired or not.
If there is no date of the distillation on the packaging, there are still other ways as mentioned below in which you can find out whether the essential oil has expired:
- Off aroma – If you are familiar with the scent of your favorite essential oils when fresh, then you may be able to pinpoint whether the scent is okay or it has turned by simply smelling.
- Sensitivity – A chief characteristic of an expired essential oil for topical use is sensitivity, itching, and redness on applied area. If this happens even after diluting the oil, then the oil has likely oxidized. You should discontinue using the oil topically if you experience any of the above outcomes.
Expired essential oils and how to deal with them
If you realize that your essential oils have expired, worry not!
Even though they may be oxidized or damaged from heat and light, you may still be able to use them for other household applications.
Although you cannot use them topically in case they are expired, they need not go to waste.
Can you use expired essential oils?
Expired essential oils should never be used for topical use, even when diluted.
Their chances of causing redness, itchiness, and general skin sensitivity is very high. They should also not be used with a diffuser, as they can irritate the mucous membrane.
However, they can be used for your cleaning purposes. Just be sure to use gloves to prevent any reactions to your skin.
What to do with expired essential oils?
If some of your essential oils have outlived their shelf life, they may still be good for something if you are creative. Instead of throwing them away, you can make some homemade recipes for cleaning the house or doing your laundry.
The only disclaimer is to make sure you use gloves to avoid any reaction with your skin.
Check out this link for some ideas on DIY non-toxic cleaning recipes.
What are the dangers of using expired or oxidized essential oils?
The use of expired essential oils in a diffuser is not recommended.
That is because they may irritate your mucous membrane.
They should never be applied topically, even when diluted, as they can cause significant discomfort due to their oxidized nature.
Essential oils to avoid if oxidized
Some essential oil to be extra careful with and avoid when oxidized include:
- Ginger grass
- Juniper berry
- Lemon balm
The above is not in any way an exhaustive list, but you can click here for more essential oils to avoid when oxidized.
How long do essential oils last once opened?
From the minute distillery is finished, essential oils are susceptible to degradation if exposed to such elements such as heat, oxygen, and light.
As mentioned before, some oils are sturdier than others and will take much longer to succumb to the ravages of these destructive elements.
Lemon oils, for instance, can succumb to oxidation in as little as nine months if not stored under the right conditions.
An oil such as patchouli may take several years to go rancid because its chemical constitution can better withstand oxidation, heat, and light.
What about carrier oils?
Carrier oils also share the same fate as essential oils when exposed to heat, oxygen, or light.
The beautiful scent of almond oil will gradually change if exposed to oxygen. The oxygen element slowly, but surely, holds on to the double carbon compounds in oils, eliminating one carbon and effectively forming a carbon-oxygen bond.
In short, the carbons in the base oil become oxidized.
Assuming almond is stored in a cupboard without good ventilation, heat and light join the fray and slowly degrade the oils. With time, it is bound to become rancid and emit an ‘off’ odor.
Tips to preserve the freshness of your favorite essential oils
To maintain the freshness and robustness of a given essential oil, it becomes imperative to handle the oil with care in terms of storage.
The reason is that, as soon as the distillation or extraction of essential oil from a plant or seed has happened, it instantly becomes susceptible to degradation by natural elements such as heat, light, and oxygen.
To mitigate this chemical interference, you can adhere the below steps:
By using the correct storage, you can help eliminate your oil going bad as a result of light. UV lights are one of the major culprits that alter the delicate natural compounds in your oil.
Ensuring that you purchase oils in small amber colored bottles is a simple, yet effective way that prevents UV light from finding its way into the bottle.
Other manufacturers prefer to use cobalt blue bottles for storage.
Clear bottles, however, are more likely to allow UV rays to pass through them and are therefore not the best option.
Storing your essential oils in an amber bottle is the first step toward better preservation of these precious oils.
The next step is to make sure that you store oils under low temperatures. Heat is another contributor to the degradation of oils, so it is critical that you store essential oils in a cool, dry place.
That does not mean it must be inside a drawer; it can be in an open space provided the areas is at room temperature or colder.
Essential oils are flammable.
The temperatures at which an oil will ignite is also called a ‘flashpoint.’ This point is usually pretty high and varies across different essential oils.
That is the reason why storing oil above the fireplace or near the stove is not a good idea.
Heat, such as direct sunlight, causes your essential oil to discolor in addition to altering its constituents, which further accelerates the degradation process.
Storing your oil in smaller containers helps in preserving them.
As a rule of thumb, the lesser the space in your storage, the better. Smaller bottles ensure this is the case.
It is also worth mentioning that neat essential oils should never be stored in plastic bottles.
That is because the essential oils are corrosive and will gradually eat at plastic material.
By making sure that you put on the lid tightly after using your essential oil, evaporation of the oil is lessened.
It is better to use a screw cap lid for closing your containers and only using a dropper cap when you need to get some oil from the bottle.
Dropper caps do not make good lids as they promote oxidation. Letting oxygen into your oil is what you want to avoid.
Having in mind essential oils storage topic, we are recommending this great book about essential oils, written by aromatherapy pioneer, essential oil expert, Robert Tisserand.
Essential Oil Safety brings you everything you always want to know about essential oils. There are also a lot of information regarding proper storage and shelf life of essential oils.
Bonus tip: Record the date you buy each essential oil on its cap or label
Keeping a record of when you purchase oil is a good way of estimating what the shelf life of that oil might be.
Unfortunately, oxidation knows no brand and will affect all essential oils irrespective of the brand if they are stored not properly. You will find that brands are in the habit of not mentioning when oils were distilled.
That will mean that you have no way of knowing when the oil was distilled and the time that has elapsed before your purchase.
Marking your date of purchase on the cap is the closest you can get to estimating the shelf life of a given oil. If you extract your essential oils, then marking the date of the oil extraction will assist in determining the shelf life fairly accurately.
It is fair to say that you can only estimate the shelf life of essential oil based on the chart provided earlier in the article.
That is because predicting the actual expiry date is extremely difficult. The estimation on shelf life helps to a degree in using essential oils safely.
Shelf life is in many ways, determined by storage.
You get the storage right, and you can be sure of the maximum shelf life.
Essential oils are considered natural products, but just like most other natural products, they are prone to the elements which can effectively destroy their delicate chemical constitution.
Since we know that the composition of essential oils is volatile, it becomes fairly easy to preserve them.
Using amber or cobalt bottles is a good start.
Storing your essential oils under room temperature or lower and keeping them from direct sunlight in addition to keeping the lid tightly closed goes a long way to prevent unnecessary evaporation of compounds from your oils.
You can now enjoy your essential oils, as well as base oils, without them depreciating prematurely. More importantly, this is a safe practice that helps prevent any unnecessary sensitivities to the skin from oils that are used topically.
If you want to get the best bang for your back on essential oils, then you want maximum shelf life from your oil purchase.
Now you know how to achieve that.
Let us know in the comments section below how long you keep your essential oils for and how you store them for better shelf life.
Are there other bottles you use that are better than the amber and cobalt blue options?