When you first decide to start incorporating essential oils into your self-care routine, you probably started off with a single essential oil you knew you liked or a small set of aromatherapy essential oils. But if you’re someone who loves essential oils and the wellness benefits that they can bring, that collection probably grew pretty quickly. We speak from experience when we say it’s perilously easy to end up with an entire library of essential oils.
Because each essential oil has its own specific scent and litany of benefits, it’s easy to convince yourself you need yet another essential oil, especially once you get into mixing your essential oils to find the best possible scent combination. Your collection tends to grow without you even really realizing it, and suddenly, you have tons of different oils.
But now you’re looking at your shelf of essential oils, and you suddenly have an important question: how long do essential oils last? Do essential oils expire? What’s the average shelf life of your lavender essential oil, and is it different from the shelf life of your lime essential oil?
So, Do Essential Oils Expire?
The short answer is yes, essential oils definitely have a shelf life, although it varies from oil to oil. (More on this later.) From the moment you first open your essential oil, the oxidiation process begins.
Oxidation describes the process by which products degrade when exposed to oxygen. Oxygen molecules attach themselves to carbons in the oil and create a carbon-oxygen bond — and that creates oxidation. It’s constantly occurring once you break the seal because it’s continuously coming into contact with oxygen when you open your essential oil bottle. This change in the composition of your essential oil when it oxidizes, well, changes it.
It’s a natural, unavoidable process. How can you tell that your oil has gone rancid? The effects of the oxidation process won’t be obvious at the beginning, but eventually, you might be able to see a change in the color of your essential oil or even sense that it smells off due to the change in chemical composition. Especially if you exclusively use high-quality pure essential oils — which we definitely recommend! — you should be aware of your essential oil’s shelf life because pure essential oils don’t contain preservatives.
Are Expired Essential Oils Dangerous?
It’s important to first acknowledge that we don’t fully know the answer to this question about the shelf life of essential oils. In general, there isn’t a ton of science-based research available when it comes to essential oils, so it follows that there also isn’t a ton of research describing the effects of using an essential oil when it’s past its shelf life.
We do know that oxidation can negatively impact the scent of essential oils, and this may negatively impact the therapeutic properties that essential oils are thought to have for your mental and physical wellbeing. Essential oils that have passed their expiration date may also cause skin irritation, like peeling skin or rashes, and so it’s best to err on the side of caution if you’re unsure whether your essential oil is still within its expiration date, especially if you generally use your oils for skincare.
So How Long DO Essential Oils Last, Then?
Like we mentioned earlier, essential oils all have different shelf lives. It’s a good idea to make note of an essential oil’s expiration date when you open it if it isn’t printed on the packaging so that you have a record. Luckily, essential oils do actually last for quite a while, so if you’ve purchased them recently, you don’t have anything to worry about. Essential oils expire anywhere from one to eight years from when they were first opened before expiring.
If you’re wondering when your essential oil expires, we’ve put together a little cheat sheet for reference. If you don’t see your go-to essential oil on this list and don’t see a best-by date on the packaging, we recommend doing a little research. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and the absence of an essential oil on this list does not mean it doesn’t have an expiration date.
1-2 Year Shelf Life
These oils have a shelf life of 1-2 years when stored safely and without anything else — like another essential oil or carrier oil — mixed in. Citrus oils generally have the shortest shelf lives.
2-3 Year Shelf Life
These oils have a shelf life of 2-3 years when stored safely and without anything else — like another essential oil or carrier oil — mixed in.
- Black Pepper
- Juniper Berry
- Tea Tree
3-4 Year Shelf Life
These oils have a shelf life of 3-4 years when stored safely and without anything else — like another essential oil or carrier oil — mixed in.
- Clary Sage
- Jasmine Absolute
4-5 Year Shelf Life
These oils have a shelf life of 4-5 years when stored safely and without anything else — like another essential oil or carrier oil — mixed in.
- Blue tansy
- Ylang Ylang
6-8 Year Shelf Life
These oils have a shelf life of 6-8 years when stored safely and without anything else — like another essential oil or carrier oil — mixed in.
- Buddha wood
But What If You Mix Your Essential Oils?
If you store your essential oils in pre-mixed blends or store them pre-mixed with a carrier oil for topical applications, you might feel unsure about the shelf life. As a general rule of thumb, it’s always good to go by the expiration date that comes earliest. Whether or not an oil with a one-year shelf life, for example, is mixed in with essential oils that won’t expire for six years, it still expires, and could at best have lost some potency. At worst, you could have negative side effects from continuing to use it.
Carrier oils all have their own expiration dates. It’s probably easiest to avoid storing your essential oils pre-mixed with a carrier oil if you don’t think you’ll use it quickly, just to be safe. But if it’s necessary, use the same logic as above — go by whatever expiration date is soonest.
Is There Any Way To Extend The Shelf Life Of Your Essential Oil?
Oxidation is what makes for expired oils, and unfortunately, it’s a natural and inevitable process. And obviously, essential oil safety is key, so you need to be aware of your expiration dates. But there are a few DIY ways you can make sure your essential oils last as long as they can, so you can get the most possible use from them.
Keep It Covered
Since oxidation is the problem, reducing the amount of exposure your essential oils have to oxygen is the best way to slow this process. Don’t leave the cap off of a bottle of essential oil, and make sure it’s screwed on as tightly as it can be before you put it back.
Keep It Cool And Dark
Your essential oils will do best when stored in a dark, cool place. Any cabinet or storage container will do. If you’ve purchased an essential oil that’s in a light-colored bottle, you might want to think about replacing it with something tinted or opaque. The more you can minimize your essential oil’s exposure to light, direct sunlight, and heat, the better. Also, you're best off purchasing your oils in glass bottles, as these better protect the contents.
Keep It Small
If you’re a bargain shopper, it can be tempting to buy things in bulk. But when it comes to essential oils, you don’t want to go for something that comes in a large container. The smaller the bottle, the less oxygen you can trap inside of it.
The amount of time your essential oils will last depends on the individual oil and how you care for them. While some oils expire after a year, others have a shelf life of up to eight years, so it’s important to keep things clearly labeled, and so make note of when things were opened. Some essential oils will obviously degrade over time, and you’ll be able to see or smell the difference when things are off. Essential oils might also become less beneficial to you over time, although that’s harder to notice. But there won’t always be obvious signs that your essential oil has outlived its usefulness, so it’s helpful to keep track.
But while essential oils may degrade, they’re not likely to be particularly dangerous to you if you miss an expiration date. They can, however, cause skin irritation and rashes, so especially if you apply your essential oils topically or use your essential oil diffuser frequently, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
The good news is, if you take good care of your essential oil collection, even though it might not last forever, it will certainly be with you for a good, long while.