Do your Essential Oils Expire?
Therefore I use ‘Young Living Essential Oils’
People who use adulterated or synthetic oils worry about shelf life. Some British references on aromatherapy say one should throw away their oils every six months and purchase a fresh quantity.
Such advice may be valid for certain carrier oils, but is not valid for pure unadulterated aromatic oils that are the products of distillation.
In order to discuss shelf life, you need to distinguish among various classes of scented oils.
- Essential (distilled). Produced by steam distillation at atmospheric pressures and minimum temperatures.
(Heat: if it reaches 45°-60° in a car, do not open the bottle till they are cooled, they are still as good as ever.) Volatile - able to evaporate
- Expressed (usually citrus, are produced by the mechanical pressing of the citrus peels bringing no change to the compounds) – Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin, Orange & Tangerine
(Heat: Damaged in temps in excess of 38°C)
- Absolutes (solvent extractions – their aromatic essences cannot survive the heat and hydration of distillation even though residues of the solvents left may adulterate the oil) - Neroli, Jasmine & Onycha, Lemon
(Heat: Damaged in temps in excess of 32°C)
- Carrier Blend Oils (essential oils in a fatty base) – non-aromatic and non-volatile, can spoil and turn rancid. Processed from the seed on
Other areas to be aware of – so when your oils are treated with dignity they give of their best.
Cold: Extreme, cold never hurt any oil, though the texture may change by
becoming congealed, waxy, semi-solid-state, regardless of whether it is
essential, expressed, absolute, or a carrier blend. Do not apply heat to thaw
them out. Keep the lids on and just let them warm up gradually to room
Light: Essential oils should always be kept in opaque containers or dark colour transparent bottles to protect the oils from damaging ultraviolet light. Do not buy oils in clear bottles and be wary of stock on the shop shelves.
Air: Extended exposure to air will cause an essential oil to oxidize, though this will not happen over night. Secondly the most damaging thing that happens to an oil exposed to air is the loss of the most volatile components. This upsets the therapeutic balance of the oil and may result in the loss of the key ingredients. Do not be concerned about keeping your lids off too long under normal usage. First of all, most essential oil bottles not only have airtight caps, but they also have non-reactive plastic or Teflon dropper caps that make it extremely difficult for any air to circulate into and out of the bottle even when the caps are off – even for extended periods of time, like overnight.
(Caroline: I have trained myself to replace a cap immediately after use. Even when delivering a Raindrop. It is a good habit to build when using EO’s. Even when others are trying the EO’s, ask that they replace the lids immediately. Also make sure the lids are firmly replaced. I have lost oils when a lid is not tightly closed, especially those that are the most volatile .)
The shelf life of the above classes of aromatic oils are different
While Expressed, Absolute, and Carrier Blend oils contain large molecules along with their small aromatic one, Pure Essential Oils obtained entirely by distillation contain only small molecules.
Shelf life addresses the question of chemical stability. As Expressed, Absolutes, & Carrier Blend Oils contain large molecules along with their smaller aromatic ones. Large molecules tend to be less stable than small ones.
If you are using pure distilled therapeutic grade essential oils, then you don’t have to worry about shelf life. Essential Oils have been found in Egyptian tombs that were still aromatic and effective – their therapeutic properties intact – even after thousands of years. These oils were in moderately cool, dark places tightly sealed from exposure to air and the elements. That is all that is required to maintain their potency.
No one knows what their true shelf life may be. All we know is that it is measured in millennia, not months.
Dr David Stewart – Chemistry of Essential Oils made Simple