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How Long Do Essential Oil Lasts?

In a recent post, I went over the easy things you can do to prolong the shelf life of your oils. They include things like storing them properly, getting the right containers, and keeping out of heat and direct sunlight.

While these are all good and well, the question first is, how long do essential oils last in the first place?

I usually don’t have to wonder about this, because I use my oils regularly, but there are always some that sit around for longer than the others. Maybe this is the same with you. We all have our favorites, but it is best to try and use your oils before they expire.

Do essential oils expire? If so, how long do essential oils last before then?

Why it’s important to know when your oils expire

Unlike carrier oils, essential oils don’t become rancid with time. But essential oils do have a shelf life, and once an oil reaches its ‘life,’ it starts to oxidize and deteriorate. The oil then loses its therapeutic value and aroma, and may not provide as many healing benefits as fresh oil.

Different essential oils have different lifespans that are influenced by various factors. Even an oil of the same type may differ between suppliers and batches. The quality of plant parts used, and the way the plant was harvested, affect the oil’s shelf life.

For the best quality and longest lasting oils, be sure to use one of the top essential oils brands.

Consider that all these things affect the shelf life of your oil:

  • The method of distillation used for extracting the oils
  • The conditions maintained during distillation
  • The distiller handling and storage methods
  • The company’s essential oil storage conditions
  • The way consumers, such as yourself, store oils after purchase

With so many factors influencing an oil’s shelf life, you, naturally, want to know WHAT the actual shelf life of a particular oil is.

Essential oil shelf life is dependent upon the oil’s individual chemical stability, which starts deteriorating once something interferes with it. Oils from companies that use the best botanicals and storage methods, and who import oil from experienced distillers, usually have the longest shelf life.

Brush up on your chemistry!

As essential oils come from different chemical families, learning a bit about these families reveals the oils’ therapeutic values and general guidelines. Feel free to read through or take a look at a specific oil you might have questions about.

1. Oils with Monoterpenes  (2-3 years)

  • Tea tree
  • Grapefruit
  • Orange

These oils, which are rich with monoterpenes—a compound that adds to the flavor and aromas of the plant they’re extracted from—help stop the buildup of toxins in the body. In addition, they are helpful in improving the therapeutic values of the oils they’re found in. This keeps the oils pure and well balanced throughout their entire lifespan.

2. Oils with aldehydes  (4-5 years) 

  • Lemon
  • Lemon Grass
  • Citronella
  • Cinnamon Bark

These oils have antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-infection properties, and are useful for relieving joint pain. They, however, should be used sparingly, because while they are calming and cooling in nature, they can irritate the skin if they oxidize.

3. Oils with phenols (4-6 years)

  • Wintergreen
  • Oregano
  • Thyme

These oils are also called phenolics and have antiseptic, antibacterial, and disinfectant qualities. They are effective at helping wounds heal, but it’s important that they are used diluted and only for a short while. These oils can irritate the skin and mucous membranes with prolonged use.

4. Oils with ketones (5-7 years)

  • Rosemary Verbenone
  • Helichrysum
  • Camphor

These oils are most often used for treating respiratory infections like the common cold and cough. Because they trigger a circulatory effect in the body, they are also helpful at healing wounds.

5. Oils with esters (5-7 years)

  • Roman Chamomile
  • Valerian
  • Lavender
  • Geranium
  • Wintergreen

These oils contain esters, a compound that creates calming, sedative, and analgesic effects in the body. They also help improve digestion and help lift your mood with their floral aromas, and are safe to use on the skin.

6. Oils with oxides (5-7 years)

  • Rosemary
  • Eucalyptus
  • Ravensara

These oils contain oxides, which create an expectorant effect when applied. These oils are best when applied to the chest and forehead to treat and soothe respiratory illnesses. They are also helpful at stimulating mental processes.

7. Oils with ethers (5-7 years) 

  • Anise
  • Fennel
  • Clove

These oils contain ethers, a chemical compound with a licorice-like smell. It’s this aroma that’s mainly responsible for their calming and carminative properties.

8. Oils with sesquiterpenes (8-10 years)

  • Cedar wood
  • Frankincense
  • Sandalwood

These oils are rich with sesquiterpenes, a compound larger than monoterpenes in size. They are generally less volatile in nature, which is why they are extensively used in the perfume industry . They also have a longer half-life and tend to blend well with lighter and more evaporative oils.

Get creative

If you’re worried that some of your essential oils have exceeded their therapeutic lifespans or have wasted, you’re wrong. Essential oils past their shelf life may no longer have therapeutic properties, but don’t let them go to waste. They can be used for other purposes, like cleaning, mopping, freshening and scenting your home! Though they may not be that potent at killing germs or fungus, they can disinfect quite well.

You should still feel free to use them with your favorite diffuser. Maybe you’ll have to add a couple additional drops, but you were planning to use up the oil anyway right?

Look at this as a fun way to sort through your collection and start using some of those old blends you love, but have neglected for a while. As soon as their aromas hit the air, you’ll remember why you fell in love with them in the first place.


Featured image: Steve Snodgrass, Flickr.com



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