Do Essential Oils Expire: Shelf Life, Precautions, Usage and Benefits

Essential oils are prized extracts from plants and herbs. They are the quintessence of nature’s aromatic artistry. These potent elixirs, often synonymous with aromatherapy, embody the essence of well-being. As a distinct type of oil, their fragrant allure transcends the ordinary. The quality of essential oils mirrors the purity of their source, infusing vitality and harmony into both body and soul.

Essential oils are known for its health benefits and skin care. Like other cosmetic products, have a lifespan, known as shelf life, where if the essential oil expiry date is crossed upon these oils oxidize due to light and heat, by nurturing your collection with care you’re ensuring that these aromatic oils stay at their best for as long as possible. Over time, monitor your oils for changes in aroma, color, or consistency. If they’ve noticeably changed, it might be time to bid them farewell.

Factors Influencing Essential Oils Shelf Life

Generally, essential oils last longer if they are stored properly with consistent use. Here are the key factors that influence how long essential oils remain at their peak:

Factors influencing essential oils shelf lifeDetails
Chemical Composition Each essential oil boasts a unique blend of compounds that determine its aroma and therapeutic qualities.
Oxidation When essential oils interact with oxygen, they undergo a chemical reaction known as oxidation, this reaction alters their composition.
Light Exposure Just as too much sun can fade vibrant colors, light can degrade the delicate molecules within essential oils. UV rays accelerate oxidation, gradually diminishing the oil’s vitality.
Temperature FluctuationsHeat can accelerate chemical reactions, including oxidation, within essential oils. Exposure to high temperatures can lead to the breakdown of volatile compounds, diminishing the oil’s aromatic and therapeutic qualities. 
Container Quality The choice of storage containers matters. Dark glass bottles help shield essential oils from light exposure, while airtight seals prevent excessive oxygen from entering the bottle, this gives the oils a long shelf life. 
Frequency of UseEssential oils benefit from being used regularly. Oils that sit unused for extended periods are more prone to deterioration. When you use your oils consistently, you help prevent the accumulation of oxygen within the bottle.

Impact of Using Expired Essential Oils

According to Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2017, essential oils have the potential to kill antimicrobials and treat skin diseases (1). While essential oils can bring enchanting aromas and therapeutic benefits, their magic is not eternal. The use of expired oils, those past their expiry date can lead to unexpected outcomes. 

Let’s delve into the potential consequences of using oils beyond their expiry date, particularly focusing on the impact of expired citrus oils and how to dispose of your oils.

Diminished Aroma and Benefits: Just as a fresh flower’s fragrance fades over time, so does the captivating scent of essential oils. Expired oils may lose their distinct aroma, leaving you with a lackluster experience. Moreover, the therapeutic qualities that make these oils valuable may also dwindle, reducing the potential benefits they offer.

Skin Sensitivities and Reactions: As the essential oils are expiring, the delicate harmony of essential oil compounds can shift. This alteration might lead to unexpected skin sensitivities or adverse reactions. What once felt soothing could turn irritating, making it essential to exercise caution when applying expired oils topically.

Ineffectiveness in Diffusers: Essential oils bring life to the air through diffusers, but expired oils might not perform as expected. The altered chemistry of these oils can affect diffusion, resulting in a weakened aromatic experience. To maintain the enchanting ambiance you seek, it’s best to opt for fresh, unexpired oils.

Heat and Light Intensifying Changes: Exposure to heat and light can accelerate the degradation of essential oils, especially those past their prime. Using expired oils in diffusers or applying them to your skin can compound these effects, leading to further deterioration and reduced efficacy. It is preferred to store the oil in an opaque bottle and seal it back tightly on the bottle. 

The Importance of Proper Disposal: Just as we bid farewell to items past their usefulness, the same applies to expired essential oils. Improperly disposing of these oils can have negative environmental consequences. It’s essential to research local guidelines or consult with disposal experts on the safe and eco-friendly way to discard expired oils.

Approximate Shelf Life of Essential Oils

Essential oils have gained immense popularity for their therapeutic and aromatic properties. However, like many natural products, essential oils have a limited shelf life and can eventually degrade. It’s essential to understand how long your essential oils can last, how to identify expired oils, and proper disposal methods.

Storing essential oils in a cool, dark place, such as a medicine cabinet or kitchen cupboard, can help prolong their shelf life.

Essential oils should never be poured down the drain or thrown in the trash. Instead, consider contacting local hazardous waste facilities or recycling centers for guidance on safe disposal methods.

To make the most of your essential oils and extend their shelf life, follow these tips:

  • Keep oils in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight and heat. Essential oils should never be exposed to direct light. 
  • Ensure the bottle is tightly closed to prevent oxygen exposure. The bottle or container shouldn’t be exposed to light or air. 
  • Consider using opaque glass bottles and put the cap back tightly to provide extra protection against light.
  • Dilute essential oils with carrier oils before use to reduce oxidation.
  • Store oils in airtight containers to minimize oxygen exposure.
  • If you’re unsure about an oil’s expiration, contact the manufacturer for information.

Extending the Shelf Life of Essential Oils

By adopting some straightforward yet effective practices, you can safeguard the longevity and efficacy of your cherished essential oils.

Proper Storage

  • To avoid essential oils from expiring, store your essential oils in a cool, dark place to protect them from light, heat, and oxygen.
  • Use dark glass bottles with airtight caps to prevent air exposure and oxidation.
  • Seal the caps tightly after each use to minimize contact with oxygen.
  • Consider using opaque glass bottles to shield oils from light.

Dilution and Blending

  • One can extend the shelf life of an essential oil by dilution with carrier oils for safe topical use and to slow down oxidation.
  • Experiment with creating blends of oils with similar shelf lives to extend overall longevity.
  • Use proper dilution ratios to avoid irritation and maintain oil stability.

Protective Packaging

  • Opt for dark-colored glass bottles to shield oils from light damage.
  • Refrigerate oils that are highly susceptible to oxidation, but be cautious of condensation.
  • Keep bottles tightly closed when not in use to prevent exposure to air.


Prevent Contamination

  • Ensure hands and tools are clean and dry before handling essential oils.
  • Use clean, dry droppers or pipettes when transferring oils between containers.
  • Keep storage containers free of moisture to avoid introducing water into the oils.

Regular Rotation and Usage

  • Prioritize using older oils before newer ones, following the “First In, First Out” principle.
  • Incorporate essential oils into your daily routine to avoid prolonged periods of storage.
  • Regularly enjoy your oils in aromatherapy, massages, diffusers, and other applications.

Mindful Handling

  • Avoid overexposure to air by pouring oils carefully and minimizing splashing.
  • When using oils in skincare, pour a small amount into your hand instead of directly onto the skin to prevent contamination.
  • Keep oils away from extreme temperatures and humidity.

Labeling and Tracking

  • Label your essential oil bottles with purchase or opening dates to track their freshness.
  • Keep a record of how often you use each oil to better gauge its remaining shelf life.

What is the Best Way to Dispose Expired Essential Oils?

  • Contact Local Waste Facilities: Reach out to your local hazardous waste collection facilities or recycling centers to inquire about their procedures for disposing of expired essential oils.
  • Community Collection Events: Check if there are any special collection events in your area where you can safely dispose of household hazardous waste, including expired essential oils.
  • Follow Regulations: Adhere to any regulations or guidelines provided by your local waste management authorities for the proper disposal of hazardous substances like expired essential oils.
  • Avoid Drains and Trash: Do not pour expired essential oils down the drain or throw them in the regular trash, as they can harm the environment and water systems.
  • Labeling: Clearly label the containers as “Expired Essential Oils” to ensure proper handling during disposal.
  • Attend Household Hazardous Waste Collection Days: Many communities organize specific days for residents to drop off hazardous waste, including expired essential oils, at designated locations.
  • Repurpose if Safe: If the essential oils are safe for non-medical use, consider repurposing them for household cleaning or crafting purposes.
  • Seek Professional Advice: If you’re unsure about the disposal process, contact waste management professionals or local authorities for guidance on the best practices.
  • Awareness: Stay informed about your region’s waste disposal regulations to ensure you are following the appropriate procedures.

Benefits of Using Essential Oils

The following are the key benefits of using essential oils: 

  • Stress Relief: Certain essential oils, like lavender, chamomile, and bergamot, have calming properties that can help reduce stress and anxiety. According to the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing, essential oil has positive effects on blood pressure and stress responses. It helps to calm the patient down and ease out the state of anxiety (2). 
  • Mood Enhancement: Citrus oils such as lemon, orange, and grapefruit are known for their uplifting and mood-enhancing effects.
  • Relaxation: Essential oils like lavender, frankincense, and ylang-ylang can promote relaxation and improve sleep quality.
  • Pain Relief: Some essential oils, including peppermint and eucalyptus, possess analgesic properties that can help alleviate headaches, muscle aches, and joint pain.
  • Immune System Support: Essential oils like tea tree, eucalyptus, and oregano have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties that can support overall health.
  • Respiratory Health: Inhalation of oils like eucalyptus and peppermint can help clear congestion and promote easier breathing.
  • Antiseptic and Anti-Inflammatory: Essential oils like tea tree, lavender, and chamomile can be used to cleanse and soothe the skin, addressing issues like acne, redness, and irritation. According to the Current opinion in Biotechnology, Volume 23, Issue 2, essential oils act as antimicrobial agents (3). 
  • Moisturizing: Oils like jojoba and rosehip are commonly used as carrier oils in skincare, providing hydration and nourishment to the skin.
  • Anti-Aging: Certain essential oils, such as frankincense and geranium, have properties that may help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. According to the Frontier aging neuroscience, 2017, essential oils have neuroprotective and anti aging properties (4).
  • Promotes Healthy Hair: Essential oils like rosemary and peppermint can stimulate hair follicles, promote hair growth, and improve overall hair health.
  • Dandruff Control: Tea tree and lavender oils have antifungal properties that can help alleviate dandruff and flakiness.
  • Antibacterial and Antiviral: Essential oils like lemon, tea tree, and thyme have natural antibacterial and antiviral properties, making them effective ingredients in DIY cleaning products.
  • Freshening Air: Many essential oils possess pleasant and refreshing scents that can help neutralize odors and purify the air in your living spaces.
  • Muscle Relaxation: Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, and peppermint can be used in massage to relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation.
  • Improved Circulation: Massaging with certain oils, such as ginger and black pepper, may help improve blood circulation and reduce feelings of discomfort.

Safety and Precautions

Essential oils offer a plethora of benefits, but it’s crucial to use them safely and responsibly to avoid potential risks. Here are important safety guidelines and precautions to consider when using essential oils:

  • Most essential oils are highly concentrated and should be diluted with a suitable carrier oil before applying to the skin. A common dilution ratio is 2-3 drops of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil.
  • If you have sensitive or reactive skin, perform a patch test before applying essential oils to a larger area.
  • Certain oils, like citrus oils and cinnamon, can cause skin sensitivity or irritation. Conduct a patch test and avoid sun exposure on areas of application.
  • Pregnant or nursing women and young children should consult a healthcare professional before using essential oils.
  • If you have allergies or a history of skin reactions, consult a healthcare professional before using essential oils.
  • Use high-quality, pure essential oils from reputable sources. Synthetic or adulterated oils can pose health risks.
  • When using essential oils in diffusers or inhalation, use them in moderation. Overexposure to strong aromas can lead to headaches or nausea.
  • Essential oils high in camphor, cineole, or phenol content (e.g., rosemary, eucalyptus, peppermint) should be used cautiously by individuals prone to seizures or epilepsy.
  • Discontinue use if you experience any allergic reactions, skin irritation, or discomfort.

Conclusion

While essential oils are indeed potent and versatile natural extracts, they do have a limited shelf life. Just like any other natural product, essential oils can undergo changes over time, which may affect their aroma, effectiveness, and overall quality. The notion that essential oils never expire is a misconception; rather, they possess a varying shelf life depending on factors such as the type of oil, storage conditions, and the presence of specific constituents.

Understanding the approximate shelf life of essential oils and recognizing the signs of expiration, such as changes in color, aroma, or consistency, empowers users to make informed decisions about their usage. Proper storage in cool, dark spaces, diligent sealing of containers to minimize air exposure, and sensible rotation of oils can help extend their longevity.

While expired essential oils may not be harmful, they may not offer the same therapeutic benefits as fresh oils. Therefore, a mindful approach to using and enjoying essential oils ensures that their aromatic and wellness-enhancing properties are maximized to their fullest potential.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many years do essential oils last?

The shelf life of essential oils depends on different factors, such as, type of oil and storage conditions. Most essential oils can last from 2 to 5 years or even longer when stored in a cool, dark place with tightly sealed bottles. Some essential oils with a higher volatility may have a shorter life span.

Is it safe to use expired essential oils?

It is not safe to use expired essential oils as their chemical composition can change over time, it can lead to reduced effectiveness or even adverse reactions. Expired essential oils might lose their therapeutic properties and could become more prone to oxidation, which may result in skin irritation or sensitization when applied topically.

Do 100% essential oils expire?

While 100% pure essential oils can have a longer shelf life compared to diluted or synthetic oils, they do not last indefinitely. Essential oils are volatile compounds extracted from plants, their chemical composition can change over time due to factors like exposure to light, heat, and air.

What are the side effects of expired essential oil?

Expired essential oils can lead to skin irritation, allergic reactions, and diminished therapeutic effects. They might also cause headaches, respiratory discomfort, or even phototoxic reactions when exposed to sunlight. It’s advisable to avoid using expired essential oils to prevent these potential side effects.

Source:
  • Orchard, A. and van Vuuren, S., 2017. Commercial essential oils as potential antimicrobials to treat skin diseases. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2017. (https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/ ) 
  • Hwang, J.H., 2006. The effects of the inhalation method using essential oils on blood pressure and stress responses of clients with essential hypertension. Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing, 36(7), pp.1123-1134. (https://synapse.koreamed.org/articles/1063448) 
  • Sol√≥rzano-Santos, F. and Miranda-Novales, M.G., 2012. Essential oils from aromatic herbs as antimicrobial agents. Current opinion in biotechnology, 23(2), pp.136-141. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/current-opinion-in-biotechnology/vol/23/issue/2)
  • Ayaz, M., Sadiq, A., Junaid, M., Ullah, F., Subhan, F. and Ahmed, J., 2017. Neuroprotective and anti-aging potentials of essential oils from aromatic and medicinal plants. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 9, p.168. (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnagi.2017.00168/full)