Do essential oils expire? Why all natural doesn't mean ever-lasting
At some point in your journey with essential oils, you’ve probably come across the idea that these oils don’t expire. While it’s true they don’t grow mildew, mold or yeast, there’s more to it than that.
If you’re curious about how long essential oils last and why they have a shelf life, you’ll find everything you need to know right here.
- When do essential oils expire?
- How long do essential oils last?
- One to two years
- Two to three years
- Three to four years
- Four to five years
- Six to eight years and longer
- Extending the shelf life of essential oils
- Decant oils into smaller containers
- Keep them away from heat and light
- Reduce their exposure to oxygen
- Has your essential oil expired?
- Essential oil expiration FAQs
- Do essential oils expire?
- When do essential oils expire?
- How do I dispose of expired essential oils?
- Do essential oils evaporate?
- What happens if you use expired essential oils?
- Make the most of your essential oils
When do essential oils expire?
While essential oils do not expire in a way that we can immediately recognize, they don’t last forever and they do have a shelf life. The main factor you have to take into consideration is that essential oils are made up of chemical constituents known as volatile organic compounds. These chemicals may be natural, but that doesn’t mean they are unaffected by time, heat or changes in the environment. The term “volatile” means these compounds are unstable and either evaporate or react quickly when exposed to other compounds.
When you’re trying to answer the question, do essential oils expire, you need to take evaporation and oxidation into account. Evaporation means the oils’ chemicals turn into gas and escape. Some compounds evaporate more quickly than others, affecting the therapeutic effects of the oil. Oxidation is the chemical reaction that occurs when a substance comes into contact with oxygen. Examples of oxidation include the brown color that a slice of apple turns after it’s left out for a while and how certain objects containing iron rust in the rain.
In terms of oxidation and essential oils, you’ll find oils’ constituents breaking down and becoming something else altogether after they’re exposed to oxygen. And what they become depends on several factors, like the constituent itself and the amount of oxidation it’s undergone. Predicting what the essential oil will do becomes impossible, and this is then problematic for people using them. Neither the safety nor the efficiency of the oil can be properly determined once it starts breaking down.
The good news, however, is that there is information on the approximate shelf life of most oils, and you can use these as a guide. Plus, there are ways to extend your oils’ shelf life to enjoy their benefits for as long as possible.
How long do essential oils last?
When you start stocking up on essential oils, we recommend that you keep track of the date that each bottle was first opened. This is the easiest way to track how long your oil will stay usable. You can simply refer to your notes whenever it’s time for a spring clean or even put a sticker on the bottle itself and record the date.
Different oils have different shelf lives.
One to two years
Thanks to its numerous health benefits, frankincense essential oil is a popular choice. This oil remains usable for between 1 and 2 years and offers relief from chronic anxiety and stress, reduction of inflammation and pain, and can even help to boost your immune system.
Other oils that have a similar shelf life include citrus oils like grapefruit, lemon, lime and mandarin.
Two to three years
Balsam fir has a slightly longer shelf life and will last between 2 to 3 years after you first open it. Other oils in this category include bergamot, juniper berry, lemongrass and rosemary essential oil.
Rosemary is famous for its ability to boost mental activity, encourage clarity and insight and reduce nervous tension and stress.
Three to four years
Cardamom, carrot seed, citronella, eucalyptus essential oil and lavender will all still be usable for up to 4 years after you first open them.
Eucalyptus is widely used as a complementary therapy for ailments like arthritis, asthma, nasal congestion, skin ulcers and even as a tick repellent.
Four to five years
You’ll be able to use amyris, blue cypress, peppermint, wintergreen and ylang ylang essential oil for as many as 5 years after opening the bottles.
Ylang ylang is particularly versatile too and can be used to increase libido, kill bacteria, lower blood pressure, promote relaxation and even kill head lice.
Six to eight years and longer
Oils like buddha wood, cedarwood essential oil, sandalwood and vetiver all have a long shelf life of up to 8 years.
Patchouli can keep for as many as 20 years. It’s widely used for treating skin conditions like acne, dermatitis and cracked, dry skin as well as easing symptoms of colds and soothing headaches and upset stomachs.
Extending the shelf life of essential oils
There are a few things you can do to get the most out of your essential oils and keep them usable for the longest possible time.
Keep them away from heat and light
Store your oils in a cool, dry, dark place like a medicine cabinet or kitchen cupboard away from the stove or oven. Make sure they’re not exposed to direct heat, light or sunlight. You may need to move where you store them depending on the time of year.
Try to purchase only dark glass containers of oils. The more opaque the glass, the better protection it offers.
Reduce their exposure to oxygen
Photo by Eva Bronzini
Keep your essential oils from expiring before their due date by minimizing the amount of time that the lid is off the bottle. This will also keep them potent for as long as possible.
Put the lid back on tightly, because if it’s not screwed on properly, oxygen will get into the bottle and the oxidation process will begin.
Has your essential oil expired?
If you’ve got essential oils that you can’t remember when you opened, there are some other indications that can tell you it may be time to throw them out:
- If there’s a change in the smell
- If its color has changed or if it's gone cloudy
- If the consistency is thinner or thicker than before
Don’t be tempted to simply pour expired essential oils down the drain. Doing this could damage your pipes, clog them and end up harming the environment.
The first thing you should do is check with your city, county, or municipality about how best to dispose of them. Rules and regulations will differ from place to place, so it’s advised that you know what to do in your area.
If a waste management organization picks up your refuse, you may be able to contact them to ask for advice on how to dispose of your oils. They will almost certainly have a procedure for you to follow regarding the disposal of oil-based products.
If your area has a composting service, then your oils can be poured into the compost before disposing of the bottle.
You may also consider using expired oils for non-therapeutic purposes. The last few drops of expired lemon essential oil, for example, can be used as part of a glass-cleaning mix at home. If they’re not too old, you can also use old essential oils just for their lovely scent.
If your expired oils don’t meet these criteria, put a bowl of bicarbonate of soda in your garage or shed, out of reach of children and animals, and dump your oils in it.
Once they’ve evaporated, you can safely throw the whole lot out. Once you’ve disposed of your expired oils, there’s still the question of the containers they came in. Reusing or recycling them requires that you place them in the sink with soap and water first and let them soak overnight. Once you’ve rinsed and dried them, you can use the bottle however you like. Get rid of lingering smells by soaking them once more in a solution of one part surgical spirits, one part water.
Essential oil expiration FAQs
Do essential oils expire?
Yes. Over time, essential oils can oxidize, deteriorating and losing their therapeutic value and eventually even their aromatic qualities.
When do essential oils expire?
It depends on the oil. Certain oils can expire in less than 2 years while others will be fine to use for up to 20.
How do I dispose of expired essential oils?
You can check with your municipality or add them to a bowl of baking soda to evaporate and then be disposed of. Keep them out of reach of children and pets.
Do essential oils evaporate?
Yes, and fairly quickly if the bottle is not capped. They’re volatile substances, so always close the bottle as soon as you’re finished using them.
What happens if you use expired essential oils?
It’s impossible to tell. This is why it’s not recommended to use essential oils past their expiry date. Their effects become unpredictable.
Make the most of your essential oils
One of the first things you’ll realize when you start exploring the world of essential oils is just how large it is! Educating yourself about their uses and about topics like how long essential oils last is important, but it’s also a very enjoyable process.
Make the most of the many resources available online, find an aromatherapist you trust and ask them questions, and chat with people who share your enthusiasm for essential oils.
By far the best way to ensure you get the longest possible use out of your essential oils is to stick to purchasing only the very highest quality products. Volant’s essential oils are 100% pure and organic, so you know that you’re getting pure, natural, ethically sourced oils that have been bottled and stored so that their shelf life is as long as possible. But since essential oils are so amazing, you’ll want to use them often, so they probably won’t get left around unused for long!