By Christi R. Pugh
For Nature’s Gift, Inc.
We recently heard from two longtime clients, who posed an interesting and important question: “What is the therapeutic shelf-life of an essential oil?” A follow-up to the question would be: “If the oil is past its therapeutic shelf-life, does it have any other uses?”
Shelf-life of essential oils truly varies from product to product. A few precious oils even improve with age, such as: Sandalwood, Patchouli, Vetiver, and other rich, resinous oils. However, as you may be aware, cold-pressed Citrus oils and some Conifers (needle oils) have a much shorter shelf life. As a general rule, these oils run their course in 6 months to one year. (Pink Grapefruit, Sweet Orange, Lemon Rind, Pines, Firs, Spruce, etc.)
There are several key factors to consider:
1) Always, always, always, store in a cool, dark place, and yes, it is okay to store essential oils in the refrigerator. We store all of our Citrus and Conifer oils in the fridge at Nature’s Gift AND use a nitrogen blanket to prolong shelf life.
2) Topping off oil bottles with a nitrogen blanket like our Oxygen Barrier, prevents oxidation, and extends the shelf life of any essential oil. Tighten tops well.
3) If you prefer not to use Oxygen Barrier, transferring the oils to smaller dark colored bottles like our cobalt or amber bottles can also be helpful. You are trying to eliminate any extra head “room” between the oil and the bottle or the chance for oxidation.
Okay, so your fabulous Pink Grapefruit is over a year old because you completely forgot about it. What now? Well, even if it still smells lovely, it is probably not going to offer the therapeutic benefits it once did.
In fact, I found a bottle of Pink Grapefruit under my car seat that fell and lodged there about three years. I opened it and to my surprise, it still smelled great. However, I ended up using it with soap and water to wipe down my stove and kitchen counters and put a tad in a clay pot diffuser in my laundry room, mainly just for the smell. I never ever let any oil go to waste. I add older ones to cotton balls and place them in strategic locations (drawers, cabinets, closets) and I also use them for mopping my floors. (A few drops added to hot water and Murphy’s Oil Soap)
Unlike Carrier Oils, essential oils don’t really turn rancid, so that is not a way you can tell if the oils are still “good” or not. However, as Marge says, you can just tell sometimes, because they somehow smell “off.” Maybe they are not as bright and vivid in aroma as they once were. One way to know is to mark dates on the oils once they come into your possession. This will eliminate the guessing game. If you pour the oil into clear glass, you may see it has a cloudy effect. This is also a tell-tale sign an oil is no longer therapeutically beneficial. Other essential oils have a shelf life ranging from one to five years.
We’ve been asked why we do not put an expiration date on our retail essential oils. The reason is simple. We do not know what conditions the oil will be stored under once it leaves our hands, thus, making it impossible to calculate a true expiration date. Other than what we’ve discussed here, there is truly no firm expiration date for essential oils.