Do Essential Oils Expire? Should You Keep Old Essential Oils or Toss Them?

Do you wonder if essential oils expire or what the shelf life of essential oils is? These are really common and important questions to answer regarding essential oils, since the answers to these questions will affect your pocketbook, but also, they can affect your health.

Of course, if they are unhealthy, you don't want to use products that have expired. At the same time, you obviously don't want to toss your essential oils if they're still good.

Here's what you need to know about essential oil shelf life so that you can make good decisions about which oils to keep and which to toss.

3 essential oils bottles with anise and corks and lavender

Why Does the Shelf Life of Essential Oils Matter?

While some essential oils are quite affordable, some are quite expensive. And if you use a lot, the cost adds up.

No one wants to pay good money for something only to throw it out, so it only stands to reason that you're wondering, "Do essential oils expire?"

This concern applies to all essential oils, but it really can come into play if you are into DIYing essential oils blends like my Breathe Easy Blend, Hair Growth Blend, Purify Blend, or Antibacterial Blend instead of buying them pre-made.

When making your own essential oil blends, you buy the components of the blend, leaving you with leftover essential oil singles.

You can save money DIYing blends if you end up using up the rest of the oils, but if they end up going bad, your savings are gone.

Also, as you'll soon find out, there are safety concerns to consider as well.

A Common Essential Oil Myth

There are a lot of essential oil myths out there, but here's a commonly used one about shelf life.

“If a company tells you that their essential oils expire, or that they have a shelf life, then they are not pure essential oils.”

The thought behind this is that pure oils don't contain water or other things that would cause them to go rancid. Also, that pure oils have such great antibacterial and antiviral qualities that they won't spoil if they're pure.

However, pure or not, essential oils can and do change. Here's how.

Pinterest collage for Do Essential Oils Expire post

What Affects the Shelf Life of Essential Oils?

Several things can affect the shelf life of essential oils.

Oxygen

Essential Oils are volatile oils (they easily evaporate — that's why you smell them) and they can oxidize. "Oxidize” means combine or be combined chemically with oxygen.

You know that “antioxidants” in foods are good for you, right? Well, they prevent, or help get rid of, the damage done by “oxidizing.”

In the same way that oxidizing affects foods (and your body), oxygen affects essential oils.

Every time you open your essential oil bottle, oxygen gets in. The oxygen reacts with the oil and oxidizes it, in a similar way that exposure to the air causes an apple to turn brown.

According to Robert Tisserand’s Book On Essential Oil Safety,

oxygen can change the chemical composition of an essential oil by reacting with some of the constituents.

Think about that. If you're changing the chemical composition of an essential oil negatively by exposing it to oxygen, then you basically have a different essential oil than you thought you had.

The properties that you bought it for might not be in the essential oil any longer. Plus, there will be new properties--some of which might not be desirable.

Light

There is varying information on this, however, it is known that light is something that affects essential oil shelf life. That's the main reason why it's recommended to store your essential oils in colored bottles, which helps to minimize this effect.

A study was done on Sweet Orange Oil in which the oil underwent significant changes in its composition when it was exposed to UV light at 20°C for 50 minutes. There were decreases in certain constituents and new constituents resulted. So technically, the oil was a totally different oil after this exposure. (Source)

Additionally, fennel oil has been shown to oxidize more quickly in light than in dark. (Source)

Heat

Heat also can affect essential oil shelf life, however, this hasn't been as widely studied.

Heat causes volatile compounds to evaporate more quickly. But, of course, the lid of the bottle would need to be removed in order for this to happen.

It appears, from the studies that have been done, that the effect of heat on an essential oil will vary depending on the components of that specific oil. Oils with components such as citral, citronellal, and oils that are high in monoterpenes seem to be more greatly affected by heat exposure than others.

Apparently, essential oils that are extracted using CO2 are more prone to damage from heat than other essential oils, though the reason for that is not yet known. (Source)

Robert Tisserand, considered by many to be the foremost expert on essential oil safety, recommends keeping your essential oils away from heat and in cool areas, ideally in the refrigerator. (Source)

Time

One more thing that can affect essential oil shelf life is time. Of course, if the essential oil is not exposed to oxygen, light, or heat (it's stored unopened in a dark, cool place), then it will be stable longer. However, once you open the bottle, the deterioration begins and progresses with time.

As you expose the essential oil to any of the above assaults, over time, the essential oil will change. If you regularly open your bottle to use the oils, then the effect will occur more quickly.

Do Any Oils Get Better Over Time?

Apparently there are some essential oils that get better with time, Patchouli being one of them.

Others that are said to get better with time include Sandalwood, Rose, possibly Cedarwood, Vetiver, Frankincense (CO2), and Myrrh. See below for more information.

Are Expired Essential Oils Dangerous?

The answer is--maybe!

Essential oils are made up of different components--lighter components and heavier ones.

The lighter components evaporate first, leaving the heavier components behind. Typically, the lighter components are the ones that are gentler on the skin.

So, if you use an essential oil that's been around for a while, your chances to experience irritation are greater and the chances of getting sensitized to the oil increase too.

This post on Emulsifying Essential Oils, talks about ways you can greatly minimize the chances of sensitization.

When essential oils are exposed to light, heat, and oxygen, the components change. So you truly end up with a different oil than what you started out with.

So due to all of these reasons, old essential oils can be dangerous.

How Can Use Expired Essential Oils?

Just because an older essential oil shouldn't be used on your skin, that doesn't mean you need to toss it. Here are a few ideas for how to use them.

  • Refresh drains. Drop some oil down your drains to help freshen them. Citrus scents like lemon and orange work great for this!
  • Freshen up your vacuum cleaner bag. Put a few drops of lavender or rose essential oils in or on your bag before vacuuming.
  • Clean your house. Use peppermint oil in a homemade cleaner like this homemade cleaning paste or homemade window cleaner.
  • Repel pests. Place a drop or two of oil on a cotton ball and place it where you have a pest problem. Peppermint, thyme, and spearmint are some oils that work against certain pests.

What Essential Oil Components Affect Shelf Life?

Note that Tisserand recommends storing your essential oils in the refrigerator. The following time frames should be halved if they are stored in an area with exposure to heat or light.

The shelf life of essential oils depends on the components. The chemical components of essential oil include sesquiterpenes, sesquiterpenols, monoterpenes, monoterpenols, ethers, esters, aldehydes, oxides, ketones, and phenols.

Each of these has a different shelf life and the amount of each in any essential oils has a huge part in determining what the shelf life of that essential oil is.

How Long Does Each Kind of Essential Oil Last?

Here are some general guidelines for how long your essential oils will last.

1-2 Years: Oils with a higher quantity of monoterpenes have the shortest shelf life.

Citrus oils have the highest amount of monoterpenes--about 90%.

Examples: Citrus, Neroli, Frankincense, Lemongrass, Tea Tree, Spruce and Pine, Angelica Root, Cypress

2-3 Years: Most essential oils aside from those with high monoterpenes fall into this category. Those essential oils that have a higher quantity of phenols may last up to 3 years.

Examples of oils high in phenols and the amount present are:

4-8 Years: Oils that contain a high percentage of sesquiterpenes and/or sesquiterpenols have the longest shelf life out of all the oils.

Examples: Sandalwood, Vetiver, and Patchouli

Though it's thought that these oils get better over time, that typically means that their aroma improves. Actually, their therapeutic components might decrease so if you're using the oils therapeutically, you might want to use them within 4 years.

Though not as much as the above oils, Copaiba Balsam, Myrrh and Gurjun Balsam have a significant amount of sesquiterpenes and/or sesquiterpenols. Also, some Cedarwood distillations have a higher amount of sesquiterpenes.

How to Make Your Essential Oils Last Longer

  • Store your oils away from heat and light and keep the bottles closed tightly. Better yet, store them in the refrigerator.
  • If you use up a lot of an oil, store the remainder in a smaller bottle to reduce the air exposure inside the bottle, otherwise known as "head space."

How To Tell if Essential Oils Have Gone Bad

Here are a few things that might indicate that your oils have expired.

  • The scent has changed
  • The oil has become thick
  • The essential oil is cloudy
  • The color of the oil has changed

Helpful Tips and Resources

Label Your Oils

When you buy an oil, write the date of purchase on the bottle or cap label. Of course, you'll want to make sure that the company you buy from has fresh stock.

The BEST Essential Oil Safety Book

I referenced this book several times on my site, and there's a reason for that. It's really really good.

Robert Tisserand's book on Essential Oil Safety is considered by many to be "the" book on EO Safety. In addition to basic safety information, he has fabulous information about essential oil shelf life as well.

Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals

It's a fantastic reference tool for anyone wanting to know more about essential oils in general, and essential oil safety in specific.

Buy Quality Oils

Of course it makes sense to buy only quality oils if you are concerned about safety and shelf life. I personally buy my oils from several places.

Years ago, I started looking for a quality essential oils company. After hours and hours of work, I ended up choosing the essential oils company mentioned in this post and have added Neal’s Yard Remedies to the mix. I initially chose them for their skincare and personal care, but they have a great line of oils that are produced sustainably.

Conclusion

Essential Oils are pretty stable, but you need to take care of how you use and store them.

Use common sense. If an oil smells bad or looks bad, don't use it.

Better safe than sorry.

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59 Comments

  1. Hi Adrienne, I'm grateful for your advice that there are things affecting the shelf life of essential oils. I had no idea that old essential oils can also be dangerous. My friends need to see this post since they are using different kinds of oil for their beauty regimen. Thanks!

  2. I keep all my oils in two sealed (no light)boxes in the back of the fridge. Oils can last 50% longer in cold temps. Several studies provide the results. So if you have the space.

  3. Hello, I trained as an aromatherapist back in 1999. When we retired in 2006 we sailed away quite literally in a boat. I brought all my essential oils away with me, in my wooden box - it’s my “medicine chest” . I was always under the assumption that the oils kept well, long term, and am only now wondering if I should actually throw them away. Found your info very interesting thank you.
    Interestingly, the latest batch of four I purchased From Amphora Aromatics in Bristol, UK. do NOT have use by dates on them, and ones purchased in past from a well known Chesmists chain DO have use by dates on them.
    Bit of a mine field !!
    Best regards
    Bev

  4. I recently made (DIY) orange essential oil. Can you tell me what the ph balance should be in order to know if it is still "good"?

    1. Hi there. I don't know that answer and not sure that pH has anything to do with it. Did you see that information somewhere?

  5. If you mix essential oils with a carrier oil like fractionated coconut oil does that reduce the shelf life of the oil?

    Also do you have a good recommendation for a book that guides you on how to essential oils with babies?

    1. Hi there. Sorry for the delay--I'm weeding through tons of comments, especially for my essential oil posts. I'm pretty certain that the carrier oil will only reduce the shelf life of the oil if the carrier oil chosen has a shelf life that is shorter than the essential oil.

      I haven't read books specifically on oils for babies but this one seems to be good based on reviews and on the quality of the reviews. https://amzn.to/33B9Ink (affiliate link)

  6. Okay, so I have many (many) bottles of essential oils some of which I haven’t opened in years...more than7....(yes they were opened once but then I moved and haven’t touched them) and they are away from heat and light. The ones I do use are mostly put in the air...for purification or scent. Before I read your article I was considering using my “edible” oils...adding them to my water and food. Now I’m wondering if that is a bad idea!?

    1. I personally wouldn't want to ingest something that old. You might want to look up each oil and how it changes w/ age and then decide.

    1. Hi Donna. I think that depends. What kind of mixture are you talking about? What concentration? I'm not an expert, but once you introduce water bacteria is encouraged to grow. You would need a high concentration of essential oils to keep the bacteria at bay and even then it would only be safe for certain uses for a certain amount of time. So it depends on a lot of things.

      1. I think it is preferable to mix the water in a 1:1 ratio with some type of alcohol (not rubbing alcohol as it has acetone in it) or witch hazel or even vinegar if those are not available (though not preferable as vinegar has a strong scent of its own) -- and then add the oils.

        For instance 1 part distilled or filtered water to 1 part vodka or perfumer's alcohol or vinegar, and then adding 30 drops essential oils of whatever blend you are using. This will last a very long time.

  7. Good day

    jojoba oi
    rose hip seed oil
    grapefruit oil
    juniper oil
    lemon oil
    vitamin 5

    Please advise on the shelf life of this combination

    Thank you

  8. I recently came across a shop that produces homemade and natural skin care. I'm interested to try their natural face oil one of them is Sandalwood, Turmeric and Licorice infused with Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Almond Oil, Grapesees Oil and Vit E Oil and it contains a lot about 60ml.

    My questions are, do you think it has long self life? I'm just afraid that it would expire before i use them all.
    Does it fit for dry/acne prone skin? Cause they have another variant for oily/acne/sensitive skin which is Neem, Cinnamon and Lemon Peel infused with Coconut Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Tea Tree Oil and Vit E Oil.
    I have dry skin but prone to acne.
    Also, they put a how to apply and it says i need to wash it after let it set for 30 minutes, do i really have to?

    Sorry if i ask a lot of questions, i'm just starting to change my skin care products to natural and organic so I'm not very well informed about it yet.

    Hope you can answer, thank you!

    1. Oh my goodness. I'm sorry but I don't know. I think that the vitamin E and EOs would extend the shelf life but you should ask them these questions since they are making them. If it doesn't work for you I am happy to help you find something that will.

  9. I recently came across a shop that produces homemade and natural skin care. I'm interested to try their natural face oil. One of them is Sandalwood, Turmeric and Licorice infused with Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Almond Oil, Grapeseed Oil and Vit E Oil. Do you think it has a long shelf life? Cause it contains a lot about 60ml i'm just afraid it expires before i use all of them. Also, do you think it'll work on dry/acne prone skin?

    They also have another variant for oily/acne/sensitive skin which is Neem, Cinnamon and Lemon Peel infused with Coconut Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Tea Tree Oil and Vit E Oil.

    Thank you so much, i hope you can give me an answer!

  10. I just found a bunch of essential oils I bought from Thailand about 4/5 years ago! They are still unopened, do you think I can use them? One is grapefruit, one is lemongrass, one is an energizing blend and the other a relaxing blend. They all say 100% pure but they are from a Thai tourist shop and they do have an expiry date printed on the pack for 2014!

  11. How about the shelf life of a mixture of grapefruit oil, Flax Seed oil, CLA & Vitamin B12 in a soft gel, kept in a dark place? ( (3 years)

  12. Florihana? You may like them. I keep reading and nothing on Florihana or Plant Therapy but mainly Florihana is what I worry about. I am not affiliated with the company just wanted to recommend them to try or ask why they weren't chosen since they follow your guidelines. Also aromatics international. Just a few that I have tried and wondered what you thought. Anyway, love your work. Keep it up, I have litterally been reading these posts for days.

  13. Any resource that would help put the time limits based on ingredients together with actual names of oils? You mentioned a few in your post that get better with age but I am interested in a list of common oils and their associated shelf lives.
    Thanks so much for doing all of the foot work on this information. It's much appreciated!

  14. Hi, what brand/machine do you do use to diffuse oils into the air? What do you think of the machines that also serve to mist the oils into the air?

  15. So appreciate your hard work as I am also looking into a good brand!

    One question: what are your thoughts on Essential Oil Exchange oils?

    1. Hi there. Thanks for the encouragement. More to come on oils - you should, if you are so inclined, sign up so you don't miss it. https://wholenewmom.com/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-essential-oils-before-you-buy/

      In any case, do you know if they do batch GC/MS testing and if they have a chemist's signature on the test results that you can see? That is one thing I am adding to my list of things to look for. I looked at their site but I didn't see that. Thanks again!

  16. Was just wondering this the other day! I have a cyst on my scalp that I am trying like a mad woman to go away because I don't want to have to get it surgically removed, so I've been applying frank because I've read many good things on that...but sadly, so far it's not working even though I have a pretty high concentration of frank to carrier oil. So sad, but I'm not giving up! If you happen to have any advise with all of your in depth research into eo, I'm all ears! 🙂

      1. No, I don't think it is ganglion - based on pics I've seen, I think it's sebaceous/epidermoid cyst (when I saw a doctor about it a few years ago - because I was freaking out it was a tumor - he just said "it's just a cyst - most people have them, but they're usually small and people don't notice them" (mine is big enough to bother me, and only because I have thick curly hair that it doesn't show through - though I still have to be careful how I style my hair so it doesn't....sigh.

        1. I would do a quick search on the internet to see what you think. Again, I can't medically advise, but I have a ganglion cyst in my foot and found some oils that were supposed to help and whenever it has bothered me, I put them on and the pain goes away. For the cyst you mentioned, I'm seeing Frankincense mentioned, Grapefruit, and Tea Tree. Best wishes! Please do consult w/ a professional before trying any alternative remedies.

  17. This is such a great post! I use oils and did not know the answers to any of these questions... which I should have since I use them. Thanks for sharing!

  18. MLM companies are the biggest rip offs available in oils that there is.... and I used to sell them..... much like the pharmaceutical companies, selling a pill for 50.00 that cost a penny to make...God gave these healing properties to all, but you do have to research for yourselves. take charge of your life and do not become a cellophane consumer (eating hamburger and not knowing where it came from nor respecting the life that was given for strengthening your life)... They ALL lie for either the dollar or notoriety .... GOD is the ONLY healer and all others are second.... Much like a corrupt preacher. just getting what he or she can for themselves.....money for nothing and the chicks for free..... <