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4 Ways to Extend the Shelf Life of Your Essential Oils

guest contributors soap science and info
bottles of essential oil

This post is brought to you courtesy of Kacie.

Essential oils are a pricey investment for any soap and cosmetic formulator. It's one of the biggest complaints we see among makers who first tackle using them. And if you want to get the most bang for your buck, you need to know how to care for your essential oil collection so that they last as long as possible. Even with all that hard work, you might still be wondering, do essential oils expire?

So, let's answer it up: do essential oils expire afterall?

You may have been told that pure essential oils do not expire because they are natural or what have you. However, this is far from being true! Essential oils do have a shelf life, and unfortunately, it's not a blanket amount of time for all essential oils.

Essential oils don't necessarily "go rancid" in the same way that we think of expired ingredients. You won't typically see mold or anything gross. However, that doesn't change that essential oils deteriorate, oxidize, and lose their effectiveness over time, and they should not be used on the skin once they have expired.

Is buying tiny bottles of essential oils the only alternative?

No! Here's the good news...

There are a few simple guidelines will help you make the most of every bottle of essential oil in your collection! Essential oils are delicate, but with proper storage methods, you can enjoy their benefits for as long as possible.

Want to know the secrets to long-lasting essential oils? Read on!

To begin with, the shelf life of essential oils vary widely and their longevity is determined by a number of factors. Apart from the chemical composition and distillation techniques, external elements can hamper the stability of the oil and lead to its degradation. Certain constituents in essential oils are more volatile than the others and as such have the a tendency to evaporate. So, adopting the right storage method is vital to preserve the properties of your essential oils.

Here are some tips to preserve the freshness of your favorite essential oils!

1. Use appropriate storage methods

The key to maintaining the freshness of essential oils lies in the right storage method. And it’s pretty simple! You just need to store them in sealed containers and avoid exposure to air except when in use. You can read up on more detailed information about storage and handling of essential oils right in this article.

Exposure to air is one of the most damaging factors for any essential oil. It causes the loss of volatile components. Oxygen reacts with certain constituents of the oil and causes them to break down, which can have a huge negative impact on your essential oils and their stability.

2. Maintain the right temperature

Maintaining the right temperature can enable you to almost double the shelf life of your oils. It's true! So, make sure to store them in a cool and dark place and avoid exposure to sunlight as much as possible. High temperatures accelerate the process of oxidation and reduce shelf life.

The ideal temperature to store your essential oils is 36-40° F (2-4° C). A dedicated refrigerator is a must, as you need to avoid using the family food refrigerator due to the possibility of cross contamination. (Nobody wants sandalwood-infused, leftover pizza, y'all! Plus, it can be dangerous!)

3. Use small containers

Another way to preserve the vitality of your essential oils is to use appropriately sized containers for the amount of essential oil you are storing. This is a rule that is often ignored but can help to minimize oxidation by lowering exposure to oxygen.

Next time you buy essential oils in bulk, make sure to transfer your oils to smaller containers. If you always use an essential oil in a particular amount, you could even pre-portion it into those sizes!

4. Avoid the use of dropper caps as lids

Another often overlooked practice is avoiding the use of dropper caps instead of screw lids. Why does it make a difference? The malleable rubber of the dropper can break down due to continuous exposure to the contents, spoiling your expensive essential oils.

Also, make sure to use one dropper or pipette for each essential oil - you don't want to be re-using the same dropper or pipette for different essential oils. You should always use a fresh, disposable pipette or sanitized dropper for each essential oil.

(If you have already created your blends and are working with larger quantities of essential oils or want to put your essential oils in smaller containers, here's a pro tip on how to pour your essential oils without any drips. After all, spills are NOT cost effective.)

How can you tell if your essential oil expired?

If you're reading this, you know by now how important it is to keep your collection of essential oils fresh and safe for use. (Oxidized oils can be used for cleaning but should not be applied to the skin!)

Are you confident you would know if an essential oil has seen better days? If not, here's what you need to look out for to determine if your essential oils have oxidized, degraded, or expired:

  • A good indicator of degradation is the aroma of the essential oil. Oxidized or expired essential oils are less aromatic or may smell different than they should. However, you may find it difficult to determine the difference unless you have a fresh essential oil to compare with or are highly experienced with essential oils.
  • Some essential oils have the tendency to separate and become cloudy as they oxidize or expire, especially citrus essential oils. Check the color and clarity of your essential oils against a spec sheet.

Protect your essential oil investment

As mentioned, various essential oils last differing amounts of time, and the shelf life is impacted by the storage and usage of the essential oil. As a general rule, you can expect that:

  • Citrus fruit, frankincense, lemongrass, neroli, spruce, tea tree and pine essential oils can last for 1 to 2 years. (If you look at an essential oil's constituents on a GC/MS report, and spot any constituents ending in -ene, you can assume they have a short shelf life.)
  • Sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver essential oils have the ability to last for 4 to 8 years.
  • Most other essential oils are effective for 2 to 3 years.

If you do not store your essential oils properly, their shelf life will reduce dramatically - sometimes, even by half! (Ouch!) With the right storage methods, you can prolong shelf life and preserve essential oils for a really long time. Make it part of your routine to abide by the these practices to get the maximum benefit from your essential oils!

How do you take care of your collection? Have a favorite tip we missed? Shout out in the comments.

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