Essential oils are unique aromatic compounds that are known to provide a wide range of benefits and uses in life. However, the delicate nature of the active ingredients in them means that they must be stored carefully. How long do they last? And how can they be stored for maximum shelf life?
To find out how long essential oils can last, you need to first consider the overall quality. While pure essential oils can last for up to a decade when stored in the right conditions (such as in stainless steel containers), lower-quality oils can lose their effectiveness in months, or worse, weeks.
The rest of the article will take a look at how long essential oils can last under specific conditions. There’s a section on the lifespan of popular essential oils, as well as how to store your oil for maximum shelf life.
Most pure essential oils will last at least two years before they start to lose their effectiveness. Some of the best ones can remain effective for 15 years. On average, however, many aromatherapy experts recommend replacing essential oils every three years to ensure the active compounds still work.
The length of time you can store essential oils once opened will depend on the main constituents of the oil. Oils featuring monoterpenes and monoterpenes oxides can last for six months to three years. In contrast, those containing a mix of aldehydes, ethers, ketones, monoterpenols, and phenols can last 2-6 years.
Oils containing sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpenols have the most longevity once opened as they can last 4-15 years.
In a Bottle
Essential oil stored in a dark-colored bottle away, away from the light, and under the right temperature can easily complete its average shelf life. Many experts agree that such bottles are good vessels for the oils so they can stay effective for the minimum duration advertised, which will be at least one year for most variants.
In the Refrigerator
Heat plays an important role in the oxidation of essential oils. This is why storing them in a refrigerator is a good idea. In the refrigerator, the oils will avoid the damage caused by temperature changes, thus ensuring that they can last up to 15 years.
Citrus, carrier, and massage essential oils are the most prone to oxidation. Therefore, they stand to benefit the most from cold storage in a refrigerator.
In an Ultrasonic Diffuser
The lifespan of essential oils in an ultrasonic diffuser is largely tied to the diffuser’s life cycle. Most of them are designed to work for 4000 hours. By the end of this cycle, the diffuser will no longer be able to vibrate strongly enough to create the oil-laced mist. The essential oil in the diffuser, if still remaining, may still remain effective for a longer period of time.
In a Reed Diffuser
Just like in the ultrasonic diffuser, essential oils in a reed diffuser don’t lose their efficacy. They just run out instead. On average, you can expect a 100 ml essential oil in a reed diffuser to last for 2-4 months, depending on environmental factors such as humidity and ventilation.
In a Warmer
Essential oils heated in a wax warmer can last for 3-6 hours, depending on the quantity poured into the saucer. When the oil completely evaporates, you can refresh the supply. One thing you should keep in mind, however, is the fact that heating essential oils in a warmer like this can erode any of the possible health benefits of the oil. The room will have a pleasing aroma, though.
Dissolved/Mixed in Water
Essential oils don’t mix with water. They’ll break up into tiny particles instead, and will, therefore, remain very effective until deterioration due to exposure to air takes place. The speed of deterioration will vary from one essential oil mix to another. However, it can take up to three hours.
Once Mixed With Other Oils
A few essential oils can be mixed together to create a blend of hundreds of fragrances. When this happens, the longevity of the resulting mix can vary a great deal. Depending on what oils have been mixed together, their combined lifespan can either improve or worsen. Most commonly mixed essential oils can, however, last up to two years when properly stored.
In Felt Pads
The longevity of essential oils dropped in felt pads will vary based on the quality of the oils used, the placement of the felt pads, and the number of oil drops on the pads. Generally, however, you can expect the essential oils in felt pads to wear off within one month.
On Cotton Balls
Essential oils on cotton balls can continue evaporating for up to one month or more. Just like with felt pads, the longevity will depend on the strength of the oils’ fragrance, as well as the quantity you’ve soaked up in a single ball.
To Repel Bugs
Some essential oils can act as repellents for mosquitoes, spiders, ants, and other insects. However, you’ll most likely need a strong aroma for the oils to have this effect. Most of the time, this means adding many drops to felt pads or dipping some cotton balls in the oil until it is soaking wet before placing them in the corners.
Generally, however, you can expect essential oils to act as a repellent for up to 14 days.
In the Air
The length of time each essential oil can stay in the air will depend on the main fragrance. In the same environmental conditions, eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint will most likely evaporate within a couple of hours while chamomile, geranium, and rosemary can stay in the air for up to four hours. Stronger notes such as ginger, cedarwood, and myrrh can stay up to a couple of days.
In the Body/Your System
The length of time essential oils will stay in your body/system will depend on a range of factors such as the concentration of the oil, the viscosity, the quality of the oil used, as well as how it got into your body. In general, however, they can stay for up to half-an-hour before natural body functions eliminate them.
You should note, though, that the effects of the oil don’t always end after it has left your body. Depending on the oils you have used, and the benefits you are seeking, the effects triggered in your body can remain hours after the oil has left your bloodstream.
When Taken in Capsules (Versus Straight)
There’s a lot of argument about whether it is healthy to ingest essential oils, but there are several options that are marketed as safe to eat. When you take those oils in a capsule, they’ll take a bit more time to work and will last longer in your body when compared to taking the oils straight from a bottle.
However, some oils are harsh on the digestive tract, and should only be taken in capsules. Oils like eucalyptus, white fir, cypress, wintergreen, cedarwood, etc. should never be ingested either in a capsule or straight. If in doubt, refer to the instructions from the manufacturer.
Essential oils meant to be used topically have to be diluted in carrier oils to avoid skin irritation. This mixture tends to reduce the strength of the fragrance. However, the oil can last up to five hours on the skin, depending on the quantity applied.
Essential oils used in soap making will last as long as the soap. Some soap makers use the oils to give natural fragrance to their products. However, in many cases, you’ll find the smell of the essential oil changing or thinning out as the soap gradually finishes. This is especially true with bar soaps. The efficacy of the essential oils in liquid soaps tends to remain unchanged over time.
If you are using soaps with essential oils for more than their scent, you should pay attention to how time, usage, and storage of the soap can counteract such benefits. How will leaving the soap outside its pack affect the ingredients?
Common Essential Oils and Expiration
In this section, we’ll answer questions around the shelf life of some commonly used oils.
Does Tea Tree Oil Expire? What is the Shelf Life?
Tea tree oil will expire after a while. There is no definitive date for expiry, but generally, the shelf life of tea tree oil is one to three years from when the bottle was first opened. Different levels of exposure to oxygen and poor storage can all play a part in the speed of expiration. Expired tea tree oil can still retain its smell for a long time.
Does Peppermint Oil Expire? What is the Shelf Life?
Peppermint oil can expire when exposed to oxygen, heat, and light. The power of the menthol in the oil will gradually begin to wane as time passes by, eventually only leaving the scent of the oil, without the minty feel. The shelf life of peppermint oil is around 2-6 years from the date of opening the bottle.
Does Lavender Essential Oil Expire? What is the Shelf Life?
The lavender essential oil can expire under unfavorable conditions. The loss or severe weakening of the scent is one of the main signs that the oil has expired. However, the compounds that are responsible for some of the main benefits of the oil will be rendered inactive long before the oil loses its scent.
The shelf life of lavender essential oil can be as short as six months, but some products can last up to five years in the right conditions.
Does Neem Essential Oil Expire? What is the Shelf Life?
Neem essential oil tends to expire a lot quicker than other essential oils when handled in a similar manner. Pure, organic, compressed neem oil has a shelf life of around 12 months.
Does Cannabis Essential Oil Expire? What is the Shelf Life?
Cannabis essential oil will expire after a while. The shelf life is one to two years, depending on how well it is stored. Unlike other essential oils, cannabis essential oil will most likely smell rancid when it expires.
Does Rosehip Oil Expire? What is the Shelf Life?
Once opened, rosehip will expire after a while. It has a shelf life of one to three years. The longevity will depend on how frequently it is used. To avoid quick oxidation and expiry, you should aim to use an opened bottle within six months.
Does Eucalyptus Oil Expire? What is the Shelf Life?
Eucalyptus oil can expire. Like other similar oils, it has a shelf life of one to three years once it’s been opened.
Does Evening Primrose Oil Expire? What is the Shelf Life?
An opened bottle of evening primrose oil will expire after a while. If you ingest the oil, you should try to use it up within six months of opening the bottle. The shelf life of evening primrose oil is typically one to three years.
How to Store Essential Oils for Maximum Shelf Life
As we’ve seen above, all essential oils will expire after some time. The best way to extend the shelf life to the maximum is to ensure you’ve stored your oils in the best way possible. When storing your oils, you should pay attention to protect them from oxygen, heat, and light.
Here are some essential oil storage tips to keep in mind:
- Use containers with tight lids. You can’t prevent oxygen from entering the bottle when you open it for use, but containers with tight lids will ensure air doesn’t get into the bottle while it’s on the shelf.
- Store in dark-colored bottles. Clear bottles won’t block out UV radiation, which can interact with the compounds in the bottle.
- Avoid plastic containers. Plastic can absorb pure essential oils, and the petrochemical compounds it is made of can react negatively with the containers. However, you can store massage oils or diluted products in such containers.
- Don’t leave the oil exposed for long. Whether you are trying to take some of the oil or transfer it into a new container, you need to act quickly. The longer the oil is exposed to oxygen, the shorter the shelf-life.
The longevity of essential oils depends on a myriad of factors, some of which are not in your control: such as the quality of plant source and the extraction methods. However, the storage and handling of the oils tend to have a big impact on how long they will last.
To ensure maximum longevity, you should store your essential oils in dark-colored bottles and keep them away from the light. When you have to use the oils, don’t leave them exposed to oxygen for too long. Take out what you need, and close the bottle as quickly as possible.