Do essential oils expire? Like many natural ingredients, most essential oils go bad over time. Especially, citrus essential oils deteriorate very quickly, with the chemical structure changing to become capable of causing skin irritation. Others, like patchouli, are like good wines, getting better as they age, maturing into full-bodied healers.
Today we’ll look at what factors speed deterioration and measures we might be able to take to counter that, and discover which are the oils we will need to replace faster than others.
The Quality of Essential Oils
Essential oil quality is affected by many different things. Their chemistry changes depending on where they grew, what the weather and soil were like as they did so, when the plants were harvested, how long they were stored and dried for, and how fast they were distilled….the list could go on and on.
Then how much light and what temperature they are exposed to comes into play, and of course, age. Carrier oils and hydrolats go rancid with age, so that you can see the degradation as molds form and their appearance changes. That’s not the same with essential oils; there is nothing to see, and you need a perfect nose to discern the changes. It is best to arm yourself that they are gradually becoming like spiteful and bitter older people looking to lash out.
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Why Do Essential Oils Expire? The Science Behind It
Think of what happens to an apple when you cut it. Oxidation causes the visible juices to discolor. This is a good representation of what is happening inside that bottle.
- First, oxidation happens because the oil comes into contact with air.
- Next, essential oils are not sunshine fans, so most companies sell them in dark bottles.
- Finally, they do not enjoy high temperatures or extreme temperature changes.
You could theoretically keep them in a refrigerator and be super careful about opening and closing the bottle, but you still cannot outsmart time.
Two main chemical groups within essential oils cause us difficulties.
Terpenes are the most prolific chemicals made by plants. They come in various sizes, the largest being sesquiterpenes and monoterpenes being the smallest. Small molecules evaporate quickly and tend to be bright and energizing fragrances. These are found in large quantities in citrus oils, for example.
The mono in monoterpenes refers to how many molecules make up the chemistry. It is all alone and has no support network. Thus, these are delicate chemicals that deteriorate fast.
If you want to get clever around this, you can look at a GC/MS report and look for constituents with -one at the end. If we think about how sweet orange oil is made up of 97% limonene, we can see how orange oil is one we should watch out for.
This deterioration usually takes place between 6-12 months after it has been bottled. A good practice is to replace your citruses about every 6 months.
Next are the aldehydes. These can sometimes be identified with the fill version of their name like cinnamaldehyde, but they can often end in-al.
Aldehydes are calming and soothing but are aggressive to the skin anyway, so we always dilute them, but when they start to deteriorate, the sunshine brightness goes out of the scent. Blends will often smell flat and lack sparkle when the aldehydes have gone.
Lemongrass and Cilantro oils are both rich in aldehydes. This group makes them smell so fresh, and you can envisage how they “go off.”
There is a more detailed analysis on the Tisserand Institute Website.
What Happens If You Use Expired Essential Oils
We’ve spoken of how scent blossoms seem to fade and how chemistry can become sharp. The most obvious concern is how this chemistry change affects the skin. Citrus oils, in particular, get spiteful and can irritate the skin very badly. In severe cases, these irritations can be like chemical burns.
But if we think of how these groups also have properties too. Aldehydes make calming oils and are suitable for digestion. As the group degrades, so too do the properties.
Old oils are rarely very efficient or productive oils.
A potential problem that some people don’t foresee is that you use your oil pretty fast when you make a cream, but then the cream doesn’t get used up very quickly. The oil continues to degrade.
Because of this, the International Fragrance Regulation Association (IFRA) recommends adding a preservative to any product you make which may have high levels of either limonene or linalool. Adding 0.1% BHT or alpha-tocopherol, for example, works well.
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How Can You Know If Your Essential Oil is Expired?
It’s probably fair to say you can suspect it, but it would be tough to know for sure because there is rarely anything outwardly to see. The most apparent change is recognizable in the fragrance when you buy new oil and compare it to an old one. You’ll notice discernible differences.
The best practice, therefore, is to keep an eye on your stock. If you are lucky, a bottling date will be printed onto the label, but not always. It can be helpful to get into the habit of writing the date you received the oil onto the tag.
Most essential oils will be good for about 4-6 years, and that knowledge grows with time. Incidentally, we do write specifics about this on each oil. To find this, click on the product listing of the relevant oil on the VINEVIDA website.
Under the picture, you will see all the blurb on how to use the oil listed under the tab” Product details.”
The next tab says “GC/MS and Documents.” Scroll to the bottom, and you will find “Safety Synopsis.” You will find everything you need to know about using the oil safely, including formulation notes and shelf life.
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Is There Any Expiration Date for Essential Oils?
Not specifically, no, because it’s not a case of one day it’s fine, and the next day it’s not. It is a gradual process. Therefore, it would be hard to label them this way.
Shelf Life of Essential Oils
- Anise - 2-3 years
- Balsam fir - 1-2 years
- Bergamot - 1-2 years
- Black pepper - 12 months
- Cardamom - 6-7 years
- Carrot seed - 12 months
- Cassia - 4-6 years
- Cedarwood Himalayan - 6-8 years
- Chamomile German - 2-5 years
- Chamomile Roman - 2-5 years
- Cinnamon Bark - 5 years
- Cinnamon Leaf - 5 years
- Citronella Ceylon - 12 months
- Citronella Java - 12 months
- Clary Sage - 4 years
- Clove Bud - 6 years
- Copaiba - 8 years
- Cypress - 2-3 years
- Eucalyptus - 3 years
- Fennel - 5 years
- Fir - 5 years
- Frankincense - 4 years
- Ginger Root - 6 years
- Ginger fresh - 6 years
- Grapefruit - 12 months
- Helichrysum - 7 years
- Hyssop - 6 years
- Jasmine absolute - 6-8 years
- Juniper - 5 years
- Lavandin - 5 years
- Lavender 40/42 - 5 years
- Lavender French - 5 years
- Lavender Bulgarian - 5 years
- Lemon - 12 months
- Lemon eucalyptus - 5 years
- Lemongrass - 3 years
- Lime - 12 months
- Marjoram - 6 years
- Melissa - Its chemistry would lead you to think 5 years, but research shows it is prone to deterioration much faster than that. Recommend storing in the refrigerator. Old oils can be spiteful.
- Myrrh - 9 years
- Nutmeg - 5 years
- Orange - 12 months
- Oregano - 5-7 months
- Palma Rosa - 5 years
- Palo Santo - 4-6 years, but it is high in limonene so that it could degrade faster. Store in the refrigerator.
- Patchouli - Actually, this oil is like a great wine. Improves with age.
- Japanese peppermint - 6 years
- Peppermint - 6 years
- Peppermint organic - 6 years
- Rose geranium - 5 years
- Rosemary - 2-5 years
- Scots pine - 5 years; however, it is high in both limonene and delta care, so best to store it in the refrigerator.
- Spearmint - 6 years
- Tea tree - 5 years
- Vanilla - 15 years
- Vetiver - 15 years
- Ylang-Ylang - 7 years
Is it Possible to Prolong the Essential Oil Shelf Life?
Obviously, we can’t argue with age, but we can protect them against other possible dangers.
Also Read: Sunshine and Phototoxic Essential Oils
Storage Tips to Extend Shelf Life of Your Essential Oil
Consider that the essential oils will have been stored for a while before they get to you, so try to buy from busy retailers. You want to find places that turn their stock over fast.
When you receive them, try to keep them in a dark place where there are not too many temperature changes.
Always replace the lid as quickly as possible.
If you buy large volumes of oil, it can be worth decanting them into smaller bottles. Oxidation is affected by how much oxygen they come into contact with. The deterioration will be faster if you have a large bottle with mostly air.
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What Else Can I Do With That Expired Oil?
Really, once they have “gone,” they are pretty useless, but they make excellent ways to scent the room. A favorite trick is to create a vacuuming powder with some bicarbonate of soda. Put a few drops in a powder jar, then sprinkle before vacuuming.
Another great one is to soak up the oil left in your bottle into a sponge or tissue, then sling it in the garbage bin. If your wheelie bin always smells dirty, you’ll love the difference this makes.
Do you have a caravan or spare bedroom that’s rarely used? Leave the bottle open there.
Let it evaporate off naturally, scenting the area.
Diffusers are an excellent way to use them, although be careful if you have any with asthma in the house. They can carry a slight risk of Wetant to the mucous membranes as they oxidize.
Certainly not use them in the bath or massage oils.
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How to Dispose of Expired & Oxidized Essential Oils
Genuinely; I would try and use them if I could. You’re not just throwing money down the drain but vital resources for the planet. On that note, it is possible to dispose of small amounts of essential oil in your composter.
Be careful since the oil places a film over your compostable and slows their breakdown. Sprinkle it around, and don’t do too many at a time.
Some people like to dig a hole and pour it into the soil.
Please do not pour essential oils down the drain. It is not helpful to the water.
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How to Recycle Essential Oil Bottles
Empty every bottle of essential oil correctly, and wash with hot soapy water.
To sterilize, boil the bottles, orifice reducers, and lids.
Place the glass bottles on a baking tray into an oven preheated to 275 degrees. Leave them in there to dry for ten minutes.
Use oven gloves to remove them and cool them onto a heat-proof surface.
So, do essential oils expire? Yes, they do, and keeping track of them can be complex. For the easiest way to keep track of your oils, always write the date you received them on your label. The only ones you want to worry about are the ones that smell citrusy.
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