Essential Oil Shelf Life and Storage
Essential oil shelf life from the time of distillation
An important part of maintaining your essential oil collection is knowing the shelf life of each of your essential oils. Whether it is months or years, every oil has a shelf life. As essential oils age, they go through a process called oxidization. Oxidization can cause skin irritation as well as sensitization. This process begins when the oil is distilled; therefore, shelf life is determined by distillation date (year and month) and not when the oil is purchased.
At Aromatics International we ensure that an essential oil’s expected shelf life and batch distillation dates can be found on each oil’s description page. We also label the specific batch number on each bottle of essential oil so that you know exactly which batch that essential oil is from and can see when it was distilled (along with other specific info regarding that batch). With this information, you’ll be able to determine when the estimated expiration date will be for every one of the oils and carriers we carry.
As an example, here are a few of our essential oils and their respective shelf life:
Shelf life: 3 years
Shelf life: 4 years
Shelf life: 5 years
Shelf life: 6 years
Shelf life: 20 years
So, looking at the batches on each oil’s page, a bottle of Frankincense essential oil from batch FRK-118 that was distilled in June 2017 will expire in June 2020, whereas a bottle of Patchouli essential oil from batch PTC-106 that was distilled in November 2016 will not expire until November 2036.
Of course, there are factors that can change the expected essential oil shelf life. For example, if an essential oil is not stored properly, its shelf life can decrease significantly.
Why do essential oils expire?
Like all natural products, essential oils have a limited shelf life and can expire over time. The expiration of essential oils is primarily due to their chemical composition and the presence of volatile compounds that can evaporate or break down when exposed to light, heat, or air. Essential oils also contain natural antioxidants that protect them from deterioration, but these antioxidants can lose their effectiveness over time.
As a result, expired essential oils may lose their potency, fragrance, and therapeutic properties, and can even become rancid or cause skin irritation. Therefore, it is essential to store essential oils properly and use them within their recommended shelf life to ensure their quality and safety.
The actual risk of expired essential oils
Using expired essential oils can pose several risks due to the changes that occur in their chemical composition over time. Expired essential oils can become rancid or contaminated with bacteria, which can cause skin irritation or infection when applied topically. We suggest you not inhale expired essential oils as that can also potentially cause adverse reactions, such as respiratory irritation or allergic reactions. Additionally, expired essential oils may not have the same aroma as fresh oils and may not blend well with other oils or products, affecting their overall quality.
Essential oil storage
Storing pure essential oils properly is key to getting the full expected shelf life of essential oils. Exposure to direct sunlight, direct heat, and air can accelerate the oxidization process. Here are a few simple guidelines for storing your oils properly:
- Store in a dark, cool place.
- Keep the essential oil bottles tightly closed.
- If a small amount of essential oil remains in a large bottle, transfer to a smaller bottle to reduce the risk of oxidization.
- Store essential oils in dark-colored glass bottles only. Carrier oils and carrier oil blends can be stored in PET plastic containers.
What to do when your essential oils expire
Have any expired essential oils or ones that are close to the end of their therapeutic shelf life? Don’t throw them away! Expired oils make wonderful essential oils for cleaning blends, such as kitchen and bathroom disinfectant sprays, etc. Expired essential oils retain some of their cleaning abilities after the oxidation process, even if they do lose some therapeutic value and health benefits.
Are you new to using essential oils in all-natural cleaning products? Read our learning guide, "Going green at home: natural cleaning with essential oils"
General shelf life from a chemical family perspective
You can also get a good idea of how long an essential oil will be good for based on its chemical family. Here is a general shelf-life grouping based on the major chemical families.
- About 1-3 years - Monoterpene rich oils, Monoterpene/Oxide (cineole) rich oils, Monoterpene/ Aldehyde rich oils, Monoterpene/Monoterpenol rich oils.
- About 3-5 years - Monoterpenol rich oils, Monoterpenol/Ester rich oils, Ketone and Phenol rich oils (Phenols are closer to 3 years).
- About 6-8 years, or longer - Sesquiterpene rich oils, Sesquiterpenol rich oils.
Citrus essential oils, such as orange essential oil, lemon essential oil, grapefruit essential oil, and bergamot essential oil, have a shorter shelf life than other essential oils due to their chemical composition. These specific essential oils contain high levels of limonene and other volatile compounds that can evaporate quickly when exposed to air, heat, or light. As a result, they are more susceptible to oxidation, which can cause them to become rancid or lose their potency over time. The shelf life of citrus oils is typically around 1-2 years, depending on how they are stored and their quality. Therefore, it is crucial to store citrus oils in dark glass bottles, in a dark place, and use them within their recommended shelf life to ensure their quality and effectiveness.
Check out our citrus oil collection for some great cleaning essential oils!
If you would like to learn more, the Aromahead Institute offers a wealth of information regarding every aspect of essential oils and aromatherapy. You can check out their courses offerings HERE. Or if you are already a student, you can search for specific information, such as shelf life, within your classes.
The Aromahead Institute offers classes ranging all the way from their amazing (and FREE!) How to Blend Essential Oils class to the full Aromatherapy Certification Program that does require a tuition. If you’ve never visited their website before, we highly recommend it!