Essential oils are pure and potent natural products that, unfortunately, do have an expiration date. Thankfully, there are ways to maximize the shelf life of your essential oils. In this article, we’ll look at the three things that cause essential oils to expire and simple ways to store essential oils to keep them as fresh and long-lasting as possible.
Essential Oil Expiration
Essential oils aren’t cheap - so we want to keep them as long-lasting as possible. The best way to do that is by storing them in a safe manner. If they are not stored properly they can become cloudy or sticky, the fragrance can become less intense, or they may develop a sour aroma. While those pretty, colourful bottles may look beautiful on an open shelf in your living room - it’s not the best way to keep them at their most effective.
Thankfully, there are a few things we can do to keep this expiration process at bay. But first, let’s take a look at the three things that cause our essential oils to ‘go bad’.
Essential Oil Oxidation
Essential oils definitely have a ‘shelf life’ -- meaning they oxidize with age. After all, if you’re purchasing high-quality, unadulterated essential oils, they are a natural product with no preservatives. But they don’t go bad like other things and grow mold (they lack the water content and have natural antibacterial properties to inhibit this process). But there are three things that can speed up the oxidation process in your essential oils:
If you’re storing your essential oil bottles on an open shelf across from a window that has them sitting in sunlight for a better part of the day - that’s not great for your oils. Or, if you store a few in the bathroom - the humidity and heat is an issue in that space. Or perhaps you’re the type of person who just likes to open a bottle at random and take a nice long inhale. Doing this on a regular basis can also cause that essential oil to oxidize more quickly.
Let’s say you’ve done some of these things and now you’re wondering if you have some oxidized essential oils on hand. There are a few signs you can look for:
Has the essential oil turned cloudy or sticky? Of course, there are some oils that are naturally more thick or sticky, so you do need to be aware of the natural state of each of your oils. But if you notice that a particular oil is cloudy when you’re adding a few drops to your diffuser it may have oxidized.
Does the essential oil have a less intense fragrance? Have you noticed that you need to use more of a particular oil to actually notice the fragrance? That can also be a sign of oxidation.
Has the essential oil developed a sour smell? A sure sign that an essential oil has oxidized is the fragrance. If a certain essential oil develops an ‘off’ or sour smell, it is oxidized.
But all is not lost if a few of your essential oils have oxidized - you can still use them — but only in methods that won’t be applied to your skin.
What to do with Oxidized Essential Oils
If you’ve discovered some oxidized essential oils, they should never be applied to the skin. Oxidized oils are more likely to cause a skin reaction or sensitization. This can be in the form of a burning sensation, a rash, redness at the location, or an actual burn. So it’s very important not to apply oxidized essential oils to the skin - even if they are diluted with a carrier. It’s not a safe way to use these oils.
BUT - you don’t need to throw away your oxidized essential oils! They are perfectly fine to use in other ways. While you most likely won’t want to diffuse them because of their sour smell, they can still be added to homecare products and cleaning supplies. The therapeutic properties are still viable so add them to your favourite homemade cleaning recipes - and use gloves when you’re using your cleaning supplies. Just remember - don’t apply them to your skin or add them to blends that will be applied to the skin!
Essential Oil Storage
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Now that we understand what makes essential oils ‘go bad’ - let’s look at proper storage methods. To keep the oxidation process at bay, it’s important to keep essential oil bottles closed and in a cool area when not in use. A refrigerator is a great option for essential oil storage but not always feasible for some. If you can’t store them that way, at least keep them in a closed container in a cool, dark place (and up away from children, of course).
If you’re in the habit of just opening bottles for the aroma - that’s a habit you’ll have to break. Instead, use your oils to make your favourite blends in small amounts (empty 5ml essential oil bottles are great for this!) and use those instead of opening your bottles all the time. Not sure how to make your own blends? I have the workshop for you — the Blending 101 Workshop will teach you everything you need to know to create your own personal essential oil blends.
Ideas for Storing Essential Oils
If you’re looking for a few methods for storing your essential oils, here are a few ideas for you:
An opaque plastic container with a lid is a good option - this will keep the sunlight away. Just be sure to store in a cool place.
A tiered tackle box can be a very good option - especially for dividing your essential oils into groups or using the different levels of the container to store other aromatherapy supplies.
Many essential oil companies offer wood boxes (like this one) made especially for essential oil storage. These are a nice, pretty option too.
Another great option (especially if you travel with your essential oils) is a cloth zippered bag with a foam insert that holds your essential oils in place. Here's an example of a large one and here's a small travel-sized bag.
If you have the space available (and you have a large stash of essential oils) - a dorm-sized refrigerator can be a great choice for essential oil storage.
No matter how you store them, keep the essential oils in their original dark amber bottles with the lids tightly closed and the orifice reducer in place to limit the exposure to oxygen and light.
Labelling Essential Oil Bottles
One simple way to keep track of expiration dates for your essential oils is by writing the date on a small label.
When you open a new essential oil bottle, write the date on a label, find out the expiration date (you can find this information in a good reference guide or sometimes it’s on the essential oil company website) and write that on the label as well. Fill in the form below to get a free download that lists the shelf life for some common oils.
Essential Oil Shelf Life
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Learn how to create your own personalized essential oil blends with the Blending 101 Workshop.