One of the questions I am so often asked is -
How long can you keep essential oils for? How long do they last?
This often comes just after the statement -
I have a whole lot of essential oils at home that I’ve had for ages – are they still good to use?
The answer to this, as to many aromatherapy questions, is not straightforward. It depends on many factors such as -
- how fresh the essential oils were when you bought them,
- how you have stored them,
- how often you used them,
- and which essential oil you have.
So what should I look for?
The better quality essential oil brands will have expiry or best before dates on the bottle. Or alternatively they may have some indication of the date the essential oil was distilled.
However, this information on its own doesn’t tell you everything. These dates are only a best guess from the manufacturer or supplier as to how long the essential oils will remain good. After all they do not know how their customer will treat the oils when they get them home. How the essential oils have been stored (both before & after they get to you) is also important.
Remember Essential Oils are natural substances so they are not inert – they will react to the environment around them and they will deteriorate over time.
Is there anything I can do to affect how long my essential oils last?
Absolutely! You may not be able to determine how the essential oils were treated prior to getting to you. You can however make sure they are properly stored once you get them home.
So are there any guidelines for essential oils with no expiry date?
There are no definite rules, but personally I find that the expressed citrus oils (such as lemon, sweet orange, mandarin, grapefruit, lime or bergamot) generally have the shortest useful lives. Whereas oils such as sandalwood, cedarwood, patchouli can be quite long-lived. Indeed some people prefer the aroma of these oils when they have “aged” as the scent becomes softer.
So if you are not sure how old your essential oils are, the rule of thumb I use is that for citrus oils I would try to use them within 12 months. Other essential oils should be good for 12-24 months. Some oils may be good for longer. But remember that although essential oils will not go “off” quickly (they are not a bottle of milk!), you may find they do not work as well as they age – their effectiveness will slowly decline.
What can you do with old oils? Should you just throw them out?
There are many opinions on this, but personally, if an oil still smells good, but I am concerned about its age, I may still use it in a diffuser, but I would avoid using it in anything that goes on the skin. (The changes essential oils go through as they age alters their chemistry and can make them more likely to irritate the skin, even if diluted according to normal guidelines.)
Alternatively, I often use up my older oils by incorporating them in the laundry or in my cleaning routines. It’s a good way to get some use out of what is, after all, a valuable substance.
One final tip!
Don’t forget to clean and recycle your bottles when they are empty! (See your local council for recycling guidelines.)