Do Essential Oils Go Bad? A Guide To Essential Oils Shelf Life

Essential oils are becoming increasingly popular, as more and more people are discovering their many benefits and properties, which can help in all manner of ways.

From treating the symptoms of certain medical ailments and conditions to using them for aromatherapy within your home to boosting your mood and energy, to helping you sleep, or even repelling insects! Essential oils truly have a wide variety of applications. 

Most often, essential oils will be used with an essential oil diffuser so that they can be inhaled within a room and create a specific ambiance with their smell and properties. Kind of like making the place smell good (but without the use of any harmful chemicals)

All the while, they also help you reap some health benefits, as most essential oils can help you breathe better.

But…do essential oils have an expiration date? They come across as the kind of thing that would last a long time, but you have to remember that they are oil extracts from a plant.

So the answer is that they will, in fact, go bad, and they do not last forever. 

The problem is that essential oils will not develop mold or yeast, so it’s a little harder to tell when they’ve gone bad. 

But don’t worry, if you keep on reading, you will find out everything you need to know about the shelf life of essential oils and how to know when they’ve gone bad. Let’s get right into it!

Do Essential Oils Expire? Why?

As we have already said, essential oils do in fact expire, as they go bad after some time. They don’t exactly develop mold or yeast or anything of the sort, but they do change in a way that makes them no longer viable for use or for inhaling, as they could have some bad side effects on you. 

So essentially, you should always check the expiration date of essential oil when you buy it and make sure that you are not using it after it has gone bad, for safety. 

But…how come essential oils expire? They look like something that should last a good amount of time, so why do they go bad? 

Well, the reason why essential oils go bad and expire after a while, is due to a process known as oxidation. Basically, once you open a bottle of essential oils, the oil inside comes into contact with the air, which contains oxygen.

This contact with oxygen is what triggers the start of the oxidation process, in which the oxygen bonds between cells change into carbon bonds. 

Or in other words, when the oil comes into contact with oxygen, light, and heat, the composition of the oil changes. These changes cause the essential oil to become weaker and less effective, and when changed even more, it becomes something different from what it originally was.

Therefore, it does not have the same effects and, in some cases, using it can cause more harm!

So, essential oils don’t go bad in the way that food does, they don’t exactly go rotten. But instead, their composition slowly changes, until they are no longer safe to be used because they are not what they originally were. Does that make sense? 

Using expired essential oils on your skin could cause negative reactions and irritation, for example, and they could also irritate and cause harm to your throat and mucus membranes if you inhale them. So absolutely do not use expired essential oil!

And again, what causes essential oils to expire is contact with oxygen, light, and heat. So the more you protect them from these elements, the longer they will last! (It is why essential oils should always be sealed and be kept sealed.

And, it is also why the darker the bottle, the longer the essential oil will last because the better protected it is from light!) 

The Shelf Life Of Essential Oils

Okay, so we have more than established that essential oils do in fact go bad and that they explore after some time. But…how much time exactly does it take for them to expire? Or rather, what is their average shelf life? 

This can depend on how they are being stored, as well as the type of essential oil in question. If you store an essential oil correctly, it will last a lot longer than if you’re just leaving it out and about. 

But just so that you get an idea, we’re going to give you the average shelf life of some of the most popular essential oils: 

Between 1 to 2 Years Of Shelf Life

  • Frankincense
  • Lemon and lime
  • Orange blood and orange sweet
  • Grapefruit
  • Yuzu 
  • Mandarin and tangerine

Between 2 To 3 Years Of Shelf Life

  • Bergamot
  • Catnip
  • Chamomile 
  • Coffee
  • Cypress
  • Fir needle 
  • Fragonia
  • Juniper berry
  • Blue yarrow
  • Lemongrass
  • Manuka
  • Nutmeg
  • Rosemary
  • Spearmint
  • Tea tree

Between 3 To 4 Years Of Shelf Life:

  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon bark
  • Citronella
  • Clary sage
  • Eucalyptus
  • Fennel
  • Ginger root
  • Lavender 
  • Myrrh
  • Rosalina
  • Thyme
  • Vanilla 
  • Jasmine
  • Laurel leaf

Between 4 To 5 Years Of Shelf Life

  • Cedarwood
  • Cinnamon
  • Geranium
  • Palmarosa
  • Peppermint
  • Rose
  • Turmeric
  • Valerian root
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylan Ylang

Between 6 To 8 Years Of Shelf Life

  • Vetiver
  • Sandalwood
  • Patchouli
  • Buddha Wood

These are just some of the most common essential oils and their average shelf life, but always remember to check the label of the bottle you are buying for the exact shelf life stated there. 

And, remember – the way in which you store the bottle of essential oil will massively alter how long it lasts!

How To Extend The Shelf Life Of Essential Oils

In order to extend the shelf life of your essential oils, or at the very least to get the full shelf life stated on their label and not have them go bad beforehand, the trick is to store them correctly. 

Usually, essential oils will come with instructions on how to be stored correctly, but if they don’t, just follow these tips:

Protect The Essential Oils From Light

Light is another element that quickens the pace of an essential oil going bad, so you should protect your essential oils from this. Ideally, the bottle they are stored in will be dark, so that it doesn’t let any light through.

On top of this, you should store the essential oils in a dark space, away from any source of light, and away from direct sunlight. A closed cupboard, for example, would be a good place for them. 

Protect The Essential Oils From Heat

You should always keep your essential oils away from heat, as this also contributes to quickening the pace at which they go bad. Make sure you are keeping the essential oils somewhere cool and dry, away from direct sunlight, and away from any sources of heat. 

Reduce The Exposure To Oxygen As Much As Possible

The main reason why essential oils go bad and eventually become unusable is due to the process of oxidation and this occurs when they are exposed to oxygen. So, in order to extend their shelf life, you have to reduce the exposure to oxygen as much as possible. 

Make sure the bottles aren’t open for too long, that you quickly place the bottle ca back on, and that it is tightly sealed every single time. 

Use Small Containers For The Essential Oils

If possible, we recommend storing your essential oils in small containers. The smaller, the better. This is because small containers can prevent oxygen from becoming trapped inside the bottle, every time that you open it to use the essential oils.

And this way, you will be further protecting them from the process of oxidation. 

How to Tell If An Essential Oil Has Gone Bad

As long as you don’t open a bottle of essential oils, the essential oils will not start to go bad. But once you open the bottle, you should write down the date, and keep track of how much time goes by, so that you know when to expect the essential oil to have gone bad. 

That being said, it is not always easy to remember to mark the date and sometimes you simply forget how long you have had or have been using a certain bottle of essential oil, and so, you no longer know when the expiration date is. 

So…how do you tell if the essential oil has gone bad or not? 

It can be quite tricky, as essential oils don’t go as visibly bad as food does, for example. However, there are small signs that you can look out for, that are a sure indicator of the essential oil no longer being safe for use:

  • The essential oil smells different from when you first started using it. This might be a subtle change in its scent, or something more drastic. 
  • The color of the essential oil is slightly different, or you notice that the essential oil appears to be more cloudy than it used to be. 
  • The consistency of the essential oil has changed. It could be that it has become thicker, or it has become thinner. Essentially it is a sign that the composition has changed. 

If you notice any of these signs, do not use the essential oil, as it has likely gone bad. 

What To Do If An Essential Oil Has Gone Bad

If you notice that your essential oil has gone bad, or it is past its expiration date, you can no longer use it. This is because it would not be completely safe to do so. 

So, what do you do? Well, you have to dispose of the essential oil safely. Sure, you could just empty the bottles down the sink, but this could harm the pipe system, and it also isn’t good for the environment, so it’s best if you avoid doing this! 

Instead, we recommend disposing of the essential oils in a safe and appropriate manner. Here are our tips:

  • Check for any rules or regulations regarding the disposal of essential oils and similar products, within your local area. They might have guidelines in place to dispose of them in a specific way!
  • Contact your local trash disposal company to ask about the best way for disposing of essential oils. 
  • You can visit a local pharmacist or drugstore and inquire as to how they dispose of similar products. They might even take care of it for you!
  • Remember you can recycle and reuse the containers in which the essential oils were stored. Just give them a good wash and use them for your next essential oil! 

Final Thoughts

To sum everything up, the answer as to whether essential oils go bad or not is, yes, they do. Essential oils all have an expiry date and it is important to check this, as it is different depending on each essential oil.

The way you store the essential oil, however, can greatly affect how long it lasts. 

The reason why essential oils go bad is because of oxidation, which starts once they are opened and exposed to oxygen, heat, and light. This is why you should always seal the bottles of essential oil tightly and store them away in a cool and dark place. 

Hannah Shiftle
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