When Do You Need to Stop Using Your Essential Oils? Consider These Factors.
One question I often get with my clients and many essential oils lovers is, “Are there expiration dates for various essential oils?”
Like many subjects with essential oils, there is conflicting messages all over the worldwide web. This leads to a lot of confusion.
The Short Answer…
I conclude, after reviewing various blog “experts” and the few scientific studies available, that with proper storage and appropriate use, you don’t have to worry much about your oils “going bad” for at least a year or more.
Now, for the long answer…
Why Expiration Dates Are Cited
1. Constituent Oxidation
Some aromatherpists give an expiration based on certain constituents’ potential for oxidation. Dates for expiration range from:
- 1-2 years for oils high in monoterpenes or oxides
- 4-5 years for essential oils with high amounts of ketones, monoterpenols, and esters
- up to 6 years for essential oils containing high amounts of sesquiterpenes
Here’s a list of some oils that may be more sensitive to oxidation.
2. Improper Storage Conditions and Potential Degradation from Environmental Conditions
From my understanding and this study on essential oils components, the issue for essential oils going bad may mostly be due to improper storage and degradation from overexposure to oxygen, light, and heat. However, the evidence is not conclusive. The study states (bold emphasis mine):
Only recent investigations systematically incorporating different storage conditions have shed light on the particular impact of selected extrinsic parameters on up to 7 essential oils deriving from different plant species. Taking various analytical parameters into account, the authors revealed that the individual character of the essential oils responded both in different ways and to varying extents to light, storage temperature, as well as the availability of oxygen, reliant on the respective chemical composition. In this way, the individual stability of essential oils was comprehensively assessed by monitoring changes of chemical patterns together with well-defined physicochemical properties for up to 18 mo (see above) (Turek and Stintzing 2011b; Turek and Stintzing 2012; Turek and others 2012).
Altogether, reliable and comprehensive studies on essential oil storage are rarely found and concrete specifications on appropriate storage conditions as well as shelf life of essential oil have not been clearly defined to date (Blitzke 2009). Moreover, only a very limited number of volatile oils have been subjected to storage experiments so far.
Some people claim that essential oils found in Egyptian tombs were analyzed and found to be still useable. I can’t verify or falsify that claim.
So, time may not be the major determinant of oil expiration, as much as conditions and the makeup of all the constituents found in that essential oil.
Here’s my caveats:
a. It may be multifaceted with certain components.
Remember the response I gave about terpenes and oxidation for acting as skin sensitization triggers? If not, the basic gist is that terpenes contribute to an allergic response with the following conditions: (1) there’s been oxidation of terpenes (2) they are present in allergenic fragrance products (3) when they exposed to air and (4) in those already sensitized.
b. Essential oils are more than the sum of their major constituent (see study above).
In fact, essential oils have been used for food preservation! This means they may prevent spoilage in some instances.
c. Consider quality.
In my deduction, I think it’s important to remember that essential oils do contain natural antioxidants when they are properly distilled. Others may be less stable due to their processing. This is why I use oils that guarantee seed-to-seal quality to ensure no synthetics will cause any unwanted, unknown, and/or harmful chemical reaction!
Follow Your Nose and Eyes and You’ll Know
If you happen to run across an essential oil that is oxidized and/or “gone bad”, it is stated that the essential oil will have a distinct, repulsive smell, different texture, and it will react differently in your body than you previously experienced. Makes it easy! At that point, toss it.
After 15 years, I’ve never had that happen with our oils. So, I can’t speak from experience here. (Probably a good thing!)
Some research does suggest oils may go bad due to oxidation and in extreme conditions with improper storage. However, most of the evidence is based on isolated constituents and chemical reactions within various essential oils. There is no specific, well-done, science-based confirmatory studies. Robert Tisserand feels that all essential oils should probably be used up in a year, but more for maximum efficacy.
Conclusion: To be on the safe side, if essential oils are sitting on the shelf for a long-time, its best that they are stored away from light, temperature extremes, and sealed tight!! I would also recommend using up the ones more sensitive to light and oxidation within a year or so, such as citrus oils. Otherwise, I am not very concerned with “expiration” of my favorite essential oils company.
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
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