In a recent poll about 43% of Honest & Pure Instagram audience believe that essential oils do not expire. The reason behind this understanding is because several large essential oil companies in the United States add preservatives to essential oils ensuring customers that they can stock up on essential oils as they do not expire.

Education is the best way to protect yourself from the potential dangers of expired natural beauty products. Aromatherapy science tells us that essential oils and base oils used for blending have a shelf life after essential oils and carrier oils expire it is not safe to use them.

The Aromatherapy industry adopted the following terms: therapeutic grade, pure and natural, true aromatherapy grade, genuine, authentic, and more. These terms are used by both discerning and non-discerning companies making it very difficult to judge an essential oil just by the marketing material a company presents. All the above terms are used for marketing purposes and there are absolutely no regulations at this time to govern an aromatherapy essential oil industry.

The truth is, as soon as you open a bottle of an essential oil that was not preserved, the essential oil comes into a contact with oxygen and the process of oxidation begins. The oxidation process involves the changes of oxygen bonds between cells into carbon bonds. Oxidized essential oil cannot be used on the skin but can still be used in a diffuser or for cleaning. Oxidized essential oils lose their potency and no longer offer full therapeutic effect.

Essential oils have a general shelf life of two to five years depending on the individual oil and the way they are stored. For instance, citrus oils tend to have a much shorter shelf life.

Essential oils are volatile organic compounds that are sensitive to heat and light. It has been an accepted part of the aromatherapy industry that essential oils need to be in a dark-colored glass to protect them from ultraviolet rays from the sun.

To reduce the impact of oxygen on essential oil degradation, all essential oil bottles must have an appropriate orifice reducer - a small dropper insert that fills the opening of the bottle. Bottle caps must be tightly closed after each use.

Citrus essential oils will have about 2-year shelf life, if stored properly.

Most other essential oils have a shelf life of about 3 years if stored properly.

Essential oils with about 4-year shelf life:


Blue Tansy

Clove Bud



Valerian root


Ylang Ylang

Sandalwood and Patchouli have about 8-year shelf life.

How to figure out if essential oil has expired/oxidized?

  • cloudy appearance
  • different aroma
  • change in color

What are essential oils preserved with?

Synthetic and natural preservatives are used to preserve essential oils. Essential oils preserved with natural preservatives have a heavier, enhanced aroma and slightly rancid oil aroma after the suggested expiration date.

On this photo an experiment shows that Honest & Pure wild-crafted Black Spruce evaporated much faster than a preserved Black Spruce essential from a large company. Preserved essential oil also looks “oilier” as it spreads on the paper.

Black Spruce experiment

The fact that a large company’s distillery opens essential oil storage cans to their visitors to allow them to feel the aroma is another proof that their essential oils are preserved.

Want to try yourself?

Keep a little bit the essential oil in a bottle from a company you would like to test and see how it changed over time.

Pure essential oil will change its aroma (or have a weaker aroma) and appearance in several years and preserved essential oil will have a heavier slightly rancid aroma.

Written by Lena Isayev, B.A., C.A.

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