USE BY OR BEST BEFORE?
Copyright Aroma Queen 2016
We’re often asked how long our essential oils last for. At AQ we don’t print a ‘Use-By’ date on our labels, in small part because they change from batch to batch and it’s expensive to keep discarding and revising the labels - this way we’re able to keep the expense (and our prices) lower. But the main reason is that ‘Use-By’ dates on essential oils can be very misleading.
The more appropriate term to use with essential oils would be ‘Best Before’, but even then any date given would generally be quite a vague one, which can vary depending on many different factors.
Essential oils don’t suddenly ‘go off’ or become unusable, however they do start to deteriorate. As a general rule, Citrus oils have the shortest shelf-life and some companies suggest that they need to be used within 6 months or a year, however you can commonly use them for a much longer period than this. Most other oils might start to deteriorate after 3 or 4 years, however some can actually improve with age - patchouli, for example, mellows in scent the longer it’s kept, and blends containing two or more essential oils will synergise together with time.
There are other factors that also affect the shelf life of your essential oil:
The emptier your bottle, the more air is inside the bottle along with the oil. Air tends to oxidise the oil so a very empty bottle is likely to deteriorate quicker than a full one.
Oils exposed to heat lose their therapeutic benefits very quickly. Oils are best kept in a cool place, and this will extend their shelf life.
Essential Oils don’t like UV light, so need to be kept in appropriate coloured glass (cobalt blue, green or amber). Keeping your oils in a drawer, box or case can help prolong their life.
* MIXING YOUR OILS WITH OTHER SUBSTANCES OR PRODUCTS
As soon as you mix an essential oil into water, cream, lotion or carrier oil, you reduce its shelf life and potentially introduce damaging microbes or bacteria into the mix - especially with water-based products or creams that you dip your fingers into. To avoid this possibility, don’t make up excess quantities of sprays or massage oils - they won’t last nearly as long as if you’d kept the essential oils separate and added them together as needed. When making oil blends, try making enough to last you a month or two, instead of a bulk two-year supply. If you’re making oil-based blends or creams etc and want them to last longer, you can also try using a natural preservative like Vitamin E or Wheatgerm Oil to extend the shelf life of your product. And when dispensing your products try not to allow your hands or skin to come into contact with the whole jar or bottle - instead of dipping your fingers into a cream or lotion, use a dispensing pump or a clean spatula to take just the amount you need.
HOW DO YOU USE YOUR OILS?
Ultimately you need to consider what you’re using your oils for before you make the radical - and sometimes expensive - decision to toss or replace them.
If your oils are only being used for their scent in a burner then your nose is the best indicator as to whether they're still 'good'. Many oils actually improve with age - especially blends of oils, which synergise together with time - and so as long as they still smell appealing then they're fine to use. You'll often find that your oils last for many years before you notice that they’re not quite up to scratch any more, in regards to scent.
However if you’re using your oils for their therapeutic benefits, then you do have to be aware that after you’ve had them for a few years they may not be as strong as they once were. As an example, in my household we use oils to keep germs at bay as my partner has a very low immune system. Because we can’t risk the oils not doing their job, and can’t actually see or feel the effects of whether they’re working or not, we generally don’t use oils more than 3 years old for this purpose. However, the rubefacient (warming) oils we use for sore muscles or aches and pains, are able to be used for a longer period: as the warming effect is something that we are able to physically feel as we use them, we can make a call on whether we're comfortable that they're still doing their job.
If you find that after a few years your oils are not working as well as they once might have been, and you really do need their therapeutic benefits to be working at their very best, then you might need to consider replacing them with newer oils.
SO HOW LONG WILL YOUR AQ OILS LAST?
At AQ we keep our oils turned over constantly, and regularly refresh our stock rather than keep massively bulk amounts on hand. We also keep the oils in a cool dark place - especially over Summer. This approach is exactly what we recommend to you, once you’ve received your AQ oil from us: keep them cool and stored well, and try not to have too many 'empty' bottles. Don’t buy a bulk size unless you’re confident you’ll get through it in a couple of years - or if you do have a bulk amount of oil, consider transferring it into a smaller bottle once it starts to empty out. Amber bottles in varying sizes are quite inexpensive and a couple of dollars spent on a smaller bottle may give your precious oils a longer life span. You can always re-use your old bottles as well - just sterilise them in boiling water and allow them to completely dry before re-using them.
When a company prints a ‘Use By’ date on their oil label it does tend to make people panic that their oils have suddenly become useless, but you should now be able to see that this is not necessarily the case. Some companies also underestimate the date just to err on the ‘safe’ side, which makes it sound even scarier! In the end, if you take care storing your oils you should see a lot more use out of them than these short dates. Just be prepared to expect them to begin to deteriorate after a few years (citrus in a shorter timeframe), and if their therapeutic benefits need to be at their absolute optimum to serve the purpose you’re using them for, then we’d recommend that you consider replacing those oils every 3 years or so. Most oils, however, will last you for several years before you’ll ever notice a difference in day to day use.
If you've found this article useful, visit our Aroma Queen LEARN MORE page for a range of additional articles, as well as a list of recommended reading on Aromatherapy and other natural therapies.