How Long Can You Keep Essential Oils Once Opened?

Essential oils are aromatic oils extracted from plants and herbs through methods like distillation. They contain the “essence” of the plant, giving them unique fragrances and properties. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years in various cultures for their health, beauty, and relaxation benefits.

Today, essential oils are commonly used in aromatherapy. They can be inhaled, applied topically, or diffused into the air. When the scent molecules are inhaled, they stimulate smell receptors in the nose that send messages to the brain’s limbic system, influencing physical and emotional health. Essential oils are used for various therapeutic purposes like reducing stress and anxiety, boosting mood, easing headaches, aiding sleep, and more.

Some popular essential oils include lavender, peppermint, lemon, rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus, and frankincense. They are sold individually or blended in ready-made products. With proper usage, essential oils offer a natural way to improve wellbeing.

Shelf Life

The shelf life of an essential oil depends primarily on how well it is stored. Properly stored, unopened essential oils can maintain their potency and beneficial properties for 1-2 years or longer[1]. Though some sources may give expiration dates of up to 10 years for unopened oils, most quality oils will start to slowly deteriorate after 2-3 years. Citrus oils like lemon, lime, and orange tend to have the shortest shelf lives of about 12-18 months.

row of essential oil bottles on a counter.

Once opened, the remaining essential oil must be carefully stored to maximize its shelf life. Exposure to oxygen, light, and heat will cause the quality of an essential oil to degrade faster once the seal is broken on the bottle. With optimal storage conditions and limited oxygen exposure, many opened essential oils can last 6 months up to 2 years before their chemical composition and aroma start to change.

Opened Oils

Once an essential oil bottle is opened, the oil inside begins to oxidize and degrade over time. Oxidation occurs when the essential oil molecules react with oxygen in the air. This causes the chemical composition and aroma of the oil to change. Generally, oxidation reduces the potency and therapeutic benefits of essential oils.

According to Plant Therapy, some key signs of oxidation include a change in color, aroma, and viscosity (Source). Oxidation happens more quickly if oils are exposed to light, heat, or oxygen. Storing oils properly can slow the oxidation process.

But all essential oils have a limited shelf life after opening. Citrus oils like lemon, lime, and grapefruit tend to have the shortest shelf life of 6-12 months. More durable oils like patchouli, sandalwood, and vetiver may last upwards of 5 years after opening.


Proper storage is crucial for preserving the shelf life and potency of essential oils. Oils should always be stored in opaque, darkened glass bottles out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources. Exposure to light, oxygen, and warmth causes the breakdown of aromatic compounds in oils over time, diminishing their therapeutic benefits (Source). The ideal storage location is inside a cupboard or drawer where the temperature remains relatively cool and consistent. Refrigeration can also help extend shelf life, as low consistent temperatures slow down oxidization. However, oils should never be frozen as this can damage the molecular structure. Always ensure lids are tightly sealed after each use. Proper storage allows essential oils to retain their aroma, efficacy, and maximum shelf life.

Visual Signs

One way to tell if your essential oils have gone bad is to look for visual signs of spoilage. Essential oils can start to change in color, texture, and smell as they oxidize and degrade over time.

You may notice that fresh, unexpired oils have a bright, vivid color while older oils start to look muddy or faded. Citrus oils like lemon or orange can lose their bright shades. The texture of an oil can also change from thin and runny to thick or viscous as it expires.

Most noticeably, essential oils can start to smell rancid, bitter, or unpleasant when they have oxidized past their shelf life. An essential oil that smells off or different from when you first opened it may need to be discarded. Trust your senses – if it looks, feels, or smells bad, the essential oil has likely expired.

According to sources:

Citrus Oils

Citrus essential oils like lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, and tangerine have the shortest shelf lives of all essential oils. Citrus oils generally last about 6-12 months after opening due to their high levels of limonene, which oxidizes and evaporates quickly [1]. Exposure to light and heat speeds up oxidation, so proper storage is critical. Signs that a citrus oil has expired include fading of the bright, fresh aroma and discoloration. Using an expired citrus oil may cause skin irritation. To maximize freshness of citrus oils, store in a cool, dark place in full bottles with little air space.

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The shelf life for essential oils can vary greatly depending on the type. Here is a breakdown for some of the most common oils:

Be sure to note the bottling and recommended storage conditions for maximizing an oil’s shelf life. Citrus oils in particular have shorter shelf lives compared to other essential oils.

Maximizing Freshness

There are several tips for extending the shelf life of essential oils once opened:

Store oils properly in dark glass bottles, tightly closed lids, and away from light and heat sources like stoves or windows. Oils can oxidize and lose potency when exposed to air, light, and heat over time. Keeping them sealed in a cool, dark place helps preserve the volatile compounds.

Fill bottles close to the top to minimize air exposure. Using smaller bottles where possible also reduces excess oxygen.

Use oils within 1-2 years for best potency. Citrus oils have shorter shelf lives around 6 months. Note signs of aging like fading aroma.

Consider refrigeration for some oils like citrus varieties. The cold helps slow chemical breakdown. Just allow to fully reach room temperature before use.

Add antioxidants to your oil blends. Vitamin E oil helps counter oxidation and rancidity.

Avoid contaminating oils with water which can quicken spoilage. Use clean, dry utensils.

Use pure essential oils without additives or dilutents which can speed degradation.

Research proper storage for each oil variety as some have unique shelf life requirements.


Using expired or spoiled essential oils can be dangerous. Essential oils that have gone bad are more likely to cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, and other side effects. Oils that are old and oxidized may also contain substances not found in fresh oils that can be toxic. For example, spoiled citrus oils like lemon, lime, and orange can contain limonene oxide, which is a skin irritant. Rancid oils also tend to have higher concentrations of compounds that increase skin sensitivity to sunlight and UV rays. This makes rashes, burns, and blistering more likely when applying rancid oils topically right before sun exposure.

Inhaling essential oils that have gone bad carries risks as well. Mold, bacteria, and fungi can grow in old oils and release spores or other particles when diffused into the air. Breathing these in can cause respiratory irritation or infection. Those with asthma or allergies may be especially susceptible. Oxidation also produces compounds not present in fresh oils that can irritate airways when inhaled.

Bottom line – do not use essential oils past their shelf life. While they may seem okay, their chemical composition changes in ways that make them more likely to cause harm than benefit. If in doubt, remember that essential oils are potent plant extracts. Like any botanical product, they degrade and spoil over time.

When to Toss

Even though essential oils can last for years, there are some signs that indicate it’s time to throw away an oil:

  • The scent is off – If an essential oil no longer smells like you’d expect, it may have gone bad. For example, if a citrus oil loses its bright, zesty aroma, it’s likely oxidized.
  • Change in color – Some essential oils get darker with age. If an oil has significantly darkened or looks cloudy, it should be discarded.
  • Irritation – Essential oils that cause skin irritation or inflammation when applied topically have likely expired and should not be used.
  • Difficulty mixing – An old essential oil may not properly blend with carrier oils or mix into DIY products. Separation can signal degradation.

Trust your senses – if an essential oil seems off in any way visually, aromatically, or when applied, don’t use it. For safety, it’s best to throw away essential oils at the first signs of deterioration.

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