I do NOT like wasting money.
And almost as much, I dislike throwing things away that I spent money on.
Remember that time I tried to save a $20 beanbag that a child had an accident on and ended up breaking our vacuum? That little gem was for readers of my monthly newsletter, but if you’re on that list, I bet you remember the story.
It is the worst feeling in the world, especially as someone who takes pains to recycle every little Post-It note, to know that I let something go bad in the fridge or broke something that was perfectly good or ruined it in some way.
At least this time, I learned my lesson – for once – NOT the hard way. I found some information about essential oil shelf life recently that is going to make a big difference for me and save me from trashing some expensive oils. As I wrote last year, I don’t think people should use essential oils without doing some learning. I feel that’s downright dangerous, and the more I do learn, the more I’ll stand behind that position.
Since then, I finally figured out proper dilution of essential oils (I was not using enough in some instances, too much in others) and honed in even more on what oils are really safe for kids and even babies (and what to use on babies too young for real essential oils). And lately, I’m scraping the surface of something even deeper.
Learning the constituent parts of essential oils is not something I ever really wanted to do. I don’t even know how to put an app on my phone because I’d rather wallow happily in learned ignorance, handing the phone to my husband if I need anything.
But I Don’t Wanna be a Naturopath!
When I hear something like “constituent components of essential oils,” my brain sort of goes off and I stop listening, because I’m thinking, “I only want to know how to use what essential oils for what purposes within my family, not to blend my own or design protocols for other people!”
But it turns out a little more science geek knowledge could be pretty helpful, both in application and purchasing.
For example, one oil I just bought a rather large bottle of only has a shelf life of 1-3 years.
So…that was a rash purchasing decision that I wish I could undo and downsize! Instead, my only choices will be to (a) figure out a very regular way to use it up, which my new diffuser should help with, or (b) give it to my mom, who does use it regularly, and buy a smaller bottle. I’m just glad I learned about shelf life in time for this one! For some of the very first essential oils I received (as blogger samples) back in 2012, it may be too late.
Understanding what’s in the essential oils, their components, is a little like knowing that you don’t use a spaghetti server to dip out soup, nor a ladle for tossing a vegetable sauté. The way the oils are put together determines their proper use and care – kind of like you wouldn’t put your high quality, wooden-handled knife into the dishwasher or scrub your cast iron pan with soap and steel wool.
I’ve been popping in and out of the Using Essential Oils Safely Facebook group lately (if you have even one bottle of EOs in your house, I recommend you join the group in case you ever want to search for information!), and an infographic caught my eye. It showed a “family” of essential oils, what those oils could be used for, and mentioned something about the shelf life.
Shelf life? I thought. What?? I was thinking essential oils were kind of bulletproof, that they didn’t really expire…uh oh…one more thing I didn’t know that I didn’t know…
I ended up reading this excellent post about chemical families, therapeutic properties, and safety considerations over at Learning About EOs. And I learned. If you want to know more than just shelf life, you should definitely hop on over, but for today, I figured I could share with you what I discovered about how long essential oils last and if they “expire.” I also learned why EOs should have a shelf life and what happens to them over time in Retha’s explanation on the Plant Therapy blog, another great read.
The quick summary is that the composition of the oil may change over time, so that if certain active components aren’t as active (or even exist in your oil anymore), your oil won’t be able to have the effect you’re looking for. It’s not like the oils is rancid, like a cooking oil might become, but that it’s just not effective.
Now that I understand the effect of air on essential oils, it makes sense why the diluted oils that I’ll leave in a bowl on my counter don’t have much aroma after a day or two. Once exposed to air, they’re going to basically degrade and become useless. (Note to self – duh! Can’t keep diluted blends around like that for the duration of an illness!)
EDIT: The good news! “Oxidation doesn’t eliminate the therapeutic factor, but the skin-protective factor,” shared by Lea Harris on my Facebook page. So even if your EOs get “old” you can totally still use them in a diffuser, but you just wouldn’t apply them topically. So no trashing, just maybe marking older oils so I don’t use them on the skin.
Shelf Life of Essential Oils
I made a chart of all the info to print out and tape to the inside of my linen closet door where I keep my essential oils, and even though I really made it just for me, I figured I would share it with you too. I still probably won’t actually learn the names of those chemical families (I never took college Chemistry for a reason), but it’s fascinating to get another window into how it all works.
Here’s a graphic of the shelf life chart:
If you want to print it too, I’ve found that it’s easier to just email it to people, since the majority of folks are browsing on a mobile device nowadays and can’t always print right then and there. Once it’s in your email, you can always archive and search for it too.
To make sure your essential oils retain their potency as long as possible, store them with the lid tightly closed, and they should all come in dark glass bottles anyway. Light and air will oxidize them (degrade) faster.
So…don’t be the one who used dishsoap on the cast iron, right?
Know enough about your essential oils to use them right, and within the proper time constraints. This would apply to products you buy that rely on essential oils for active purposes, not just scents, too!!
EDIT: You can extend the shelf life of more volatile oils by refrigerating them. More on that and how to know if your oil has oxidized in this excellent post from Leah Harris of UsingEOsSafely.com.
There’s still so much I still don’t know about essential oils…
…and so many readers are hungry for more information!
Dr. Eric Z and his wife have a great reputation for reliable, high-quality information, and they’ve filmed a 10-Part Video Masterclass that will give you the confidence that you need to make healing remedies for your body & non-toxic natural recipes for your home with essential oils.
Their Essential Oils for Abundant Living Masterclass distills down what takes aromatherapists months and even years to learn and delivers an easy-to-follow roadmap so you can start to use essential oils in your home with confidence.
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