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Last Updated on January 4, 2020
You might be wondering Do essential oils have a shelf life? I am going to go into a bit of detail about expiration dates, increasing shelf life, and other information for you to know the importance of this topic, Essential Oils Do Expire: How to Extend Their Shelf Life.
Essential oils that are 100% pure from nature’s storehouse from the plant kingdom, to include trees, leaves, roots, branches, berries, and fruit give us aromatherapy with healthful benefits that we love. Resin and sometimes seeds are used for steam distillation too.
If you’re like most of us, you will not have your essential oils just sitting around; therefore, they will probably not expire when you use the small bottles often. Essential oils expire from 6-months to 6-years and I will list the oils and their dates below.
Store essential oils at room temperature never above 90-degrees Fahrenheit.
How Plants Work
All life is chemistry! Plants for essential oils have chemistry. This is not a chemistry lesson but a quick synopsis for you to easily understand. Not only is life chemistry, it is also electrical energy.
We love our essential oils extracted from the essence of plants. They are not true oils in the sense of greasy lubricants. Those would be vegetable oils for cooking, and carrier oils to blend with essential oils for soothing massages. As you probably know, carrier oils are obtained by pressing nuts and seeds, such as Olive and Jojoba. These contain a lot of fats known as fatty acids.
Plants are super smart! Those tiny seeds are loaded with information—the intelligence for them to do great things! Have you ever looked at a plant or flower in the hot summer’s sun and heat and wonder why they don’t just shrivel up and die? They stand erect and beautiful because nature created each one to have its own precise and identifiable glands, chambers, and cells for protection.
On hot summer days, I notice my squash plant leaves look wilted. They are, yes, but not dead wilted. They are conserving water and droop low to protect their fruit from the sun’s hot rays. When the sun goes down, they will perk up and be erect again. Watch nature and you will learn a lot about yourself.
All the chemicals in the plants protect them from predators, wind, and sun. Nature provides scent to keep bugs and insets away including animals. Plants can deal with rain; however, if too much rain, the roots will rot such as onion plants.
The oils in plants are usually extracted using the steam distillation process. The oils are tiny molecules heavier than water, so they will float on water in a diffuser and release the fragrance.
The oils are called essential because they are the heart and soul—the essence—of the plant. Thus, essential oils are their name.
Essential oils will expire, and they start going bad the minute the lid is removed! Most essential oil companies put the expiration date on the label. Suppose they didn’t. You can date the bottle as to when you received it and calculate the expiration date yourself with a little information.
One thing you will need to know is the chemical composition of the oil. The plant contains hundreds of different molecules that belong to a class. The class has its own particular features to affect health. This is what gives each different oil its components and benefits.
The following will address some of the main classes and their shelf life. Shelf life is also the expiration date.
How Long Do Essential Oils Last?
The chemical structure for essential oils can vary due to the area where it grew, when the plants were harvested, and the way each plant is processed.
You can ask the essential oil brand company for their GC/MS (Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry) report. GC/MS testing analyzes individual molecules of each plant’s oils for customers to have the best quality essential oils on the market. The oils have no herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and are free from adulterants such as fillers, bases, and additives. With this report you will know the chemical profile of the specific oil for which you want more information. The report from reputable essential oil companies is free.
The main component, for example in Oregano, is carvacrol, a phenol, and it’s a tremendous antibacterial and antifungal molecule. Its shelf life is 3- to 6-years. Storing it well will help preserve its therapeutic benefits. Storing pertains to all essential oils.
About 65% of the monoterpene content in Lemon essential oil is gone after about 12-months being exposed to air each day. When the exposure to air is reduced to once a month, the content loss is minimal. See how to store your precious essential oils on down the page. They are too expensive to ruin!
Some chemical components in essential oils are listed in the following table. There are many more on the Internet that you can check if you have an interest in it.
1-2 Years Shelf Life: Citrus, Frankincense, Lemongrass, Neroli, Pine, Spruce, and Tea Tree Oils
These are oils that contain monoterpenes, particularly limonene, and are more predisposed to oxidation. The more monoterpenes an oil contains, the shorter its shelf life. Most citrus peel essential oils, except Bergamot, consist of 90% or more monoterpenes, and are oils that have the shortest shelf life. Other oils that generally consist of over 80% monoterpenes include Angelica Root, Cypress, Frankincense, Pine, and Spruce oils.
2-3 Years Shelf Life: Most all other essential oils that contain a higher percentage of aldehydes, oxides, monoterpenols, esters, ethers, phenols, or ketones.
4-8 Years Shelf Life: Patchouli, Sandalwood, and Vetiver are oils that contain a high percentage of sesquiterpenes and/or sesquiterpenols having the longest shelf life. Although the aromatic quality of these oils may improve over time, their therapeutic quality can still weaken. For therapeutic use, it may be wise to use within the lower onset of 4-years. Other oils that contain a significant percentage of sesquiterpenes and/or sesquiterpenols include Copaiba Balsam, Gurjun Balsam, and Myrrh. Some Cedarwood distillations have higher sesquiterpene concentrations.
To save me time typing, read more about each oil on this chart created by Plant Therapy® to read about the shelf life of many essential oils. It’s very informative and can be printed in color.
Elements That Make Essential Oils Change or Go Bad
Over time, essential oils can oxidize, but they do not go rancid. They can gradually deteriorate and lose their great fragrance and therapeutic worth. Of note, lifespan can vary from one botanical to the next, from distillation to the next, and from suppliers.
Oxygen changes the chemical structure of essential oils. This means it’s different from before. If it’s important to know what’s going on with the contents, it will need to be retested. Being exposed to air does not speed up the expiration time. It simply means when you first open the bottle it’s pure. Once exposed to air, that purity is gone. That does not mean it can’t be good for its use—it is.
Heat that is intense will change the essential oil’s chemical composition. This is the reason producers of oils are cautious about where they store their oils; thus, they are in rooms with temperature controls.
Light produces oxygen-free radicals that are highly reactive and can potentially change the essential oil. It’s astounding: Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun over an hour causes changes. Some of the chemicals will increase or decrease and the most surprising is that new chemicals can show up in the oil. That is chemistry! With the correct storage methods you will save your oils from light and heat.
Temperature is important to keep your expensive essential oils fresh. You must have suitable storage. Oils do not respond to temperature changes well. Storage boxes will help you keep the aroma and therapeutic benefits of your oils and they are cheap.
Bottling in dark amber glass bottles keeps the UV rays out. Always buy from a company that sells their essential oils in amber, or other dark shades of blue, green, or violet. All of these colors provide protection. Do not buy oils in clear plastic containers. By the way, just because your oils are in dark bottles does not mean you can expose them to sunlight! You still need to store your oils in a cool dark place because the slight UV rays can naturally heat up the oils increasing the time for them to oxidize.
Always put the lid back on tightly. You might even want to wipe the threads of the bottle and cap with a damp cloth to prevent oil from sticking making the lid making it difficult to open the next time. Some of the chemicals can evaporate if the oil is not 100% pure; however, we lovers of 100% pure essential oils use them quickly.
Cooling is important. Under heat and temperature changes, essential oils are subject to oxidation specifically citrus essential oils. This is also valid for your carrier and massage oils. To avoid oxidation, store in the fridge at 41- to 50-degrees F. Never store essential oils on your window sill, bathroom shelf, or any place where it becomes hot or sunny.
Some oils will turn solid so don’t put in the fridge. If you do, let them sit out for a few hours to liquify again. Some, such as Rose Otto will go back to normal rubbing in your hands. Do not put the bottles under hot water! Aniseed, Fennel, and Star Anise can possible solidify.
Store your oils in the fridge during the heat of summer. Simply take them out about 12-hours before you plan to use them. Shake the bottle a bit to see that all particles are dissolved.
Boxing can be done if you lack space in the fridge. Use a shoebox to put the oils in where there will not be temperature changes, heat, or light.
Storing is super important. Essential oils are volatile and that simply put means they are flammable and will set things on fire. Therefore, never put them in a box near stoves, fireplaces, wood stoves, candles, pressure cookers, or any source of ignition. Keep essential oils away from pets, kids, and elders.
I mentioned above with glass bottles not to store essential oils in plastic containers or plastic bottles. The oils will degrade plastic eating into it. You don’t want to use the oils once this happens. It’s perfectly okay to store massage oils that are diluted in plastic, but I wouldn’t. The lower concentration of essential oils will probably not eat into the plastic, but I won’t take that chance. Use an old pickle jar or small Ball® jar for storing your mixtures for safety for you and others using the products.
How to Know If Your Essential Oils Have Deteriorated
- The aroma has changed: It will be less powerful and pure smelling.
- The essential oil is now thick: That is known as viscosity and it might feel sticky.
- The essential oil is now cloudy: This mostly occurs in blends but can happen in singles where you see residue in the bottle floating around.
Where to Store Essential Oils
You can store your essential oils in a dark dry cupboard. You can also buy a special storage box for the products such as wooden or fabric cases for safe storage away from the sun in a dark space. They have dividers so that the glass doesn’t touch one another, lids that close, and some have locks. If you have a reducer cap or oil dropper, be sure the caps/lids are also on tightly. Separate oil droppers just sit there so pose no problem.
Dangers Using Old or Oxidized Essential Oils
When 100% pure essential oils are old or go bad, they lose all of their chemical properties that were beneficial to health when new.
Now they have no real use. They can irritate your skin and mucous membranes when diffused and have lost their power.
There is no sense to use them to kill bacteria or to disinfect anything. What I do is add a few drops to my indoor plastic trash bag and what aroma is there is nice. I have also put a few drops in my vacuum cleaner bag. Usually, I just toss the oils and save the bottles for blends.
Final Thoughts Keeping Your Essential Oils Good
It’s really easy to keep your 100% pure essential oils good never going bad. Always use before the expiration date or “use by” date. Store them as suggested above and don’t use them for inhalation or diffusion if they are old and smell strange.
It would be helpful to us buyers of essential oils if all brands would put the expiration date on the label, lid, or bottom of the bottle. We could email all of them at their sites and tell them how important the date is to us.