If you’re anything like us, it’s easy for products like essential oils to accumulate in your cabinets or under your bathroom sink over time. Some call it “hoarding;” we call it being prepared – you never know what you might need! There’s virtually an oil for every ailment, mood or environment, so there’s no need not to have the right options on hand to benefit the mind, body and spirit.
Using an expired oil won’t necessarily hurt you, but it will likely be less effective. That said, even the most seasoned beauty aficionados are guilty of keeping products past their prime. Thankfully essential oils usually can go a long way, but it’s difficult to tell when they might have expired. Not sure if it’s time for that oil to be tossed? Here’s a quick guide.
It’s noted humans began using essential oils in ancient times. In ancient Egypt, vats of essential oils were found in King Tut’s tomb. They were discovered around 2,000 years after he lived – and they were still aromatic!
What affects shelf life?
- Light, heat and exposure to air. Air, light, heat and humidity all contribute to the expiration of an essential oil. Not storing oils properly and exposing them to such elements can cause oils to oxidize more quickly.
- Oxidation. Deterioration is the greatest risk affecting the shelf life of an essential oil. Oxidation depends on chemical components, so the shelf life of individual oils will vary. Be aware of topically using an oil that has oxidized as it could lead to increased sensitization to the skin.
- Chemical composition. Oils higher in alcohol, especially citrus oils, are more at risk of expiring within 1-2 years. Oils with heavier consistency, like Patchouli or Vetiver, can last longer, up to 5-6 years.
- No H₂0. Essential oils don’t contain water; therefore, they can’t grow mold. The antibacterial and antiviral properties in the oil protect it from microorganisms.
How to tell if an essential oil has gone bad?
- The smell. The typical aromatic scent of essential oils differs from oil to oil. Knowing what your favorite oils smell like can make it easier to identify when that particular oil is off. Familiarize yourself with the scent of each essential oil you keep, that way you know the aroma of each and can identify when it smells different than it should. Do keep in mind that different batches of oils can vary in their scent. Just like wine, the plants that produce essential oils can be impacted by weather and climate influences that will give each harvest a unique quality. However, an oil that has gone rancid should be obviously different from a fresh oil.
- Increased sensitization. Pay attention to your skin to see if you experience redness, itching or irritation. This can happen if the oil is too strong on your skin – the potency of the oil can lead to oversensitivity. However, if the oil is properly diluted (the way it’s intended to be), then you shouldn’t experience redness or irritation, and if you do, it’s possible the oil has expired.
- Consistency of oil. Almost all essential oils have a similar smooth and fluid consistency. If the oil has gone bad, it’s possible the consistency of the oil will thicken up. The oil can also take on a cloudy appearance, rather than the typical translucent coloration.
In general, keep an eye and nose out for any changes in the color, consistency or smell. These are the biggest indicators that your oil is past its prime.
- Keep lids tightly closed. When you plan to use an oil, dispense it and close the lid immediately to minimize air exposure. Remember not to leave the bottle open.
- Essential oils are best stored in a dark-colored glass bottle. Most oils are sold in amber glass to protect from degradation of quality – it’s important to keep them in a bottle like that.
- Store oils in a cool, dark space, perhaps a closet, box or case – somewhere where they have minimal interaction with elements such as light or heat.
- Essential oils can be stored in a refrigerator.