Essential oils are an amazing tool to bring comfort, relaxation, and health to your life. Having a large collection of different essential oils ensures that you’ll always have the right aromatherapy oil for any occasion. However, collecting large amounts of essential oils can be expensive. By learning how to properly store and care for essential oils, you’ll ensure they have long shelf lives and remain potent for years to come.
Do Essential Oils Go Bad?
Essential oils are made from plants, and thus, they do eventually “go bad” or lose their potency. Using an essential oil that is past its prime most likely won’t hurt you, but the oil won’t have as strong of a scent and may lose some of its healing and wellness properties.
Since undiluted essential oils don’t contain water, they won’t grow mold, yeast, or mildew unless exposed to humidity or water in their environment. Essential oils such as oregano oil and citrus oils are actually commonly used as natural preservatives in food products. This means that if you take care of your essential oils and don’t expose them to excess light, humidity, or other forms of damage, they’ll be able to preserve themselves for years without growing bacteria like other beauty products.
How Long Will My Essential Oils Last?
There is no singular answer to the question of essential oil shelf-life, as there is a multitude of factors that affect how long your oils will remain potent for. Not all essential oils are created equal, and the ingredients your oils are manufactured with will affect their shelf-life and potency.
Some essential oils come with suspiciously low price tags that seem a little too good to be true. This is usually because they aren’t pure essential oils but are mixed with cheaper oils from nuts or seeds. In other cases, these bargain oils aren’t made from plant extracts at all but are synthetic oils with artificial scents added to mimic the smell of essential oils. These “fake” essential oils won’t last nearly as long, as they don’t have the natural antibacterial properties or preservatives that pure essential oils do.
The other factor that affects essential oil shelf-life is carrier oils. Since essential oils are extremely potent, they are often diluted with a carrier oil, a natural, neutral oil that helps to dilute the essential oil so it is safe to apply to the skin and won’t cause irritation.
Carrier oils all have different shelf-lives. Some carrier oils, life borage, can go bad after six months, while others like grapeseed and soybean oil can last about a year. Coconut oil and jojoba oil, which are the most popular carrier oils, can last over five years. Make sure to check the ingredients on your essential oil’s label to predict the shelf life of the carrier oil.
What Causes Essential Oils To Spoil?
While essential oils in themselves won’t go bad for multiple years, there are environmental factors that can cause them to lose their potency more quickly. When storing your essential oils, try to avoid exposing them to the following factors.
Essential oils contain active ingredients that contribute to their healing properties. Some of these important active ingredients are monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, monoterpenes, sesquiterpenoids, and monoterpenoids. Sesquiterpenoids and monoterpenoids will oxidize when exposed to air, meaning that oxygen atoms change their chemical composition and cause them to lose effectiveness. By making sure your essential oils are stored in airtight containers, you can help avoid oxidation.
Light And Heat
Essential oils are flammable and can combust if exposed to extremely high temperatures. The temperature at which essential oil will ignite is called the “flashpoint.” Essential oil flashpoints range from about 100-200 degrees Fahrenheit, so you don’t need to worry about spontaneous combustion if stored at average room temperature. However, avoid storing essential oils near heat sources, such as ovens or space heaters. Look for a cool place to keep them.
Direct sunlight can also be damaging to essential oils and can change their color or alter the chemical make-up of the oil.
Excess moisture can be extremely damaging to essential oil. Moisture can enter essential oil bottles if the cap is left off for too long or if the bottles you’re storing essential oils in are not completely airtight. When exposed to too much moisture, essential oils can begin to grow mold, yeast, or other bacteria. It is important to thoroughly clean all products you use with your essential oils to prevent bacteria growth.
If you notice cloudiness in the oil or beads of water building up at the bottom of the container, it may mean your oil has been exposed to moisture and should be thrown away. To avoid this, make sure you store your oils in airtight bottles with secure caps and avoid storing essential oils in environments with excess moisture, such as bathrooms.
Best Bottles For Essential Oil Storage
Essential oils store best in dark glass bottles, like cobalt blue or amber bottles. Clear glass containers allow more sunlight into the bottle, which can damage the oil’s potency. Never store essential oils in plastic containers, as the oil can eat away at plastic bottles, causing them to leak or be exposed to the air.
Ensure the bottles your essential oils are stored in have tightly fitting lids, such as screw-on caps. After you use essential oils, always tighten the cap as much as possible to avoid water and air entering the bottle. When not using your essential oils, always leave the caps on to avoid as much exposure to the elements and evaporation as possible.
Make sure the bottles you’re using are the correct size for the amount of oil you have in them and don’t leave too much empty space. If you’re storing 2 oz. of oil in a 6 oz. container, there is a lot of room inside the bottle for air, which can oxidize the oil or cause it to evaporate. If you like buying oils in large quantities, you can purchase smaller empty bottles to transfer them into as you begin to use them up.
Many of the container's essential oils are stored in come with rubber bulbs or droppers attached to the inside of the lid. This allows users to dispense a few drops of oil at a time. However, essential oils can eat away at rubber.
Ensure that the rubber dropper does not come in contact with the oil when the bottle isn’t being used, or simply transfer your oil into a different bottle without a rubber bulb, and keep droppers or pipettes nearby to dispense the oils.
Proper Bottle Storage
When it comes to storing your entire essential oil collection, make sure to pick a cool, dry place without too much temperature fluctuation or exposure to sunlight. Avoid places with excess moisture, like bathrooms.
If you’re worried about inconsistency in temperature, you can store your essential oils in the fridge. While essential oils are shelf-stable and don’t need to be kept cold, storing them in the refrigerator provides temperature consistency and prevents oxidation. Simply remove the bottle from the refrigerator about 12 hours prior to using, and shake it gently before opening the bottle.
If you have a large collection of oils, organizing them can save time and is visually appealing. Building a small shelf or compartmentalized box and sorting your oils in alphabetical order saves time when trying to find the oil you need.
How To Tell If An Oil Is Expired
Even if you take care to store your oils properly, they will eventually expire, most likely within a time frame of 1-5 years. Make sure to keep track of how long you’ve had each oil and check its average shelf-life (it’s different for every oil). Grapefruit oil has a shorter lifespan, while patchouli and sandalwood oils have one of the longest. Here are a few warning signs that an oil is past its prime or has been exposed to light, moisture, or heat:
- The smell of the oil has changed from previous uses
- The color has changed or become cloudy
- The consistency has changed and become thinner, or thick and chunky
- You notice beads of moisture building inside the bottle
- The oil irritates the skin when it previously did not
Can I Use Expired Essential Oils?
While expired essential oils most likely won’t hurt you, they will not provide the same health benefits that a potent oil would. Certain oils, such as lavender and tea tree, can cause adverse effects once they undergo oxidation. These effects can include rashes, irritations, and even burning. Speak with an aromatherapist about concerns if you have them.
Once you’ve noticed an oil has expired, make sure to properly dispose of them. Never pour essential oils down the sink, as they can be harmful to your pipes, as well as the environment. If you have a waste management company that picks up your trash, ask them what their chemical product disposal procedure is.
The Importance Of Proper Storage
Essential oils can provide wonderful health benefits and bring serenity and relaxation to your life. While essential oils do eventually expire, you can ensure they’ll have a long shelf-life by storing them properly, and you can keep reaping their benefits for years to come. If you're interested in other uses for essential oils, check out our blog, or shop for high-quality diffusers on our website.