How Long Do Essential Oils Last?

If you've ever purchased essential oils from an independent seller, they may have been eager to tell you that the oils have a limited lifespan and will only last a short time. In fact, this might not be the case. The question of how long essential oils last depends on a few factors, and it is hard to predict the lifespan of an oil before you try them out yourself.

There is no one clear answer on how long the oils will last because the way you care for them and store them will influence their lifespan. With proper preparation and a good space to store them, certain oils can last as long as for four to five years. Keep in mind that this date is from the time that the oils were distilled and placed into the bottle, which can be weeks or even months before you purchase it and bring it home.

How Ingredients Can Change the Lifespan of Your Oils

The ingredients that are used to compose an essential oil have a lot to do with how long the lifespan of the oil might be. This is because every ingredient commonly used in a mix of essential oils is susceptible to evaporating. Certain ingredients will evaporate faster than others, which can change the smell and effectiveness of the oil. If the ingredients that make up most of the essential oil contain a lot of oxides, which contain oxygen, the evaporation process is likely to speed up. This can reduce the estimated lifespan of the oil to just one to two years.

To make sure you are purchasing the essential oils that are likely to last the longest, familiarize yourself with the ingredients commonly used and which are the most volatile and likely to oxidize. Some of the essential oils that are most likely to oxidize include star anise, juniper berry, pine, spruce, tea tree and sage. If you do want to purchase these oils, you might choose a smaller bottle or plan to store the bottle properly once you bring it home. This will help to preserve the oils until you are able to finish using them all and give you the maximum benefit when you use them.

Another way to prolong the life of your essential oils is to purchase high-quality blends made with mostly natural ingredients. Some of these cheaper oils use synthetic or artificial ingredients to keep price points low while giving a smell similar to natural ones. However, these components can be more susceptible to going bad than natural ones that use more organic ingredients. Natural ingredients can change over time due to exposure to heat and light, but they do not typically expire and overall last longer.

How Should Essential Oils Be Stored

Keeping essential oils properly is one of the keys to getting them to last as long as possible while maintaining the pleasant odor and healing properties. By storing them properly, the process of evaporation slows, which allows you to maximize the life of the essential oil. There are a few elements that will degrade the essential oil quality, including:

  • Direct sunlight coming into the bottle
  • Oxygen exposure from the oil getting air in the bottle
  • Heat that increases the overall temperature

It can take some practice and experimentation to find the right spot to store your essential oils. Many people choose to store the oils in a convenient location like the bathroom cupboard, window ledge or medicine cabinet. While this does provide a dark place free of sunlight, unfortunately, this allows the oils to be exposed to heat and moisture, which can shorten the shelf life. To avoid exposure to these elements, it's best to find a cool, dark spot to store your essential oils collection. Ensure that there is no prolonged exposure to sunlight in this spot and keep the temperature as low as you can. Some people will store especially volatile oils in the refrigerator to help them last longer. Others find a storage box kept in a dark closet is sufficient to protect the oils. If you are an enthusiast with a large collection of oils you've invested a lot in, you may choose to get a special box made for this purpose. The small holes in the box hold each bottle in place while protecting them from the elements that may harm them.

Another way to help oils last longer is to minimize the amount of light that gets into the bottle, no matter where you store it. A good way to do this is to ensure you use a dark colored bottle to store oils instead of a clear one. Clear glass will allow the most sunlight to come through, which changes the composition of the oils. Instead, a bottle in amber, green or blue will prevent some of the sun from coming through. This will slow the process of the light changing the make-up of the oil.

Believe it or not, using an oil frequently can take away from the overall life of the oils. Repeated use and opening of the essential oil bottle will speed up the oxidization process, so try not to open a bottle until you are ready to start using it regularly. If you open a bottle and only use it intermittently, the chance of it going bad before you get to finish it are much higher. This is why some people prefer to buy smaller bottles of their favorite oils to keep them smelling fresh even as you use them over and over.

How Can You Tell If Essential Oils Are Still Good?

There are several signs that an essential oil is no longer effective and is past its prime. The most obvious one is a change in the smell of the essential oil. Once an essential oil has started to oxidize, the signature smell of the oil will change. It may simply fade and be harder to smell, or it can have an unusual scent. Another sign is the reaction the essential oil causes when you use it. If you have a bad reaction, like a rash where the oil was applied, this is a sign that it is no longer good. If using the oil through a diffuser, the smell may still be pleasant, but it can cause you to sneeze as the extra oxidization leads to inflammation within the nostrils.

Over time, you can begin to get a better feel for how long each specific type of essential oil will last and how long you can preserve them for before needing to replace them. Every collection can be different and the right storage solution can vary based on what kinds of oils you prefer, the temperature you keep the home at and the amount of space you need for storage. With proper care and attention, you can count on keeping some of them for many years to come as you build a larger collection.