Essential oils are precious, concentrated extractions that require investment to utilize – ie, they aren’t cheap! Due to the huge amount of plant matter, equipment and time involved to distill or express and then bottle them, there’s a cost to these rare and wonderful healing substances.
So, understandably, we often get the question, ‘how long do essential oils stay fresh?’ There’s a simple answer – “a long time!” – that’s a Fact. The fiction is if an essential oil seller claims the oils have a 6-month or 1 year shelf life: they are likely just trying to sell more oil. In general, when essential oils are in dark/protective bottles and kept at room temperature, they will last for several years without degradation. (In my 20 years of using essential oils, it’s an extremely rare occurrence when I’ve had to toss an oil for degradation, and it’s always been after I’ve had the oil for many years.)
Therefore, most users of essential oils won’t have to think about self life, as the oils will be used up long before their quality suffers. But if you’d like a little more information on the various shelf lives of categories of oils (by plant part), see more details below.
Shortest: Citrus oils
Essential oils pressed from the rinds of lemons, oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, mandarins and other citrus fruits have the shortest shelf life, anywhere from 1-2 years, when in protective/dark bottles at room temperature. While it’s not necessary to refrigerate essential oils, you may choose to keep citrus oils in the refrigerator to help preserve and lengthen shelf life by a year or two, and just for peace of mind that you’re doing the most you can to protect these highly volatile and fresh oils. Use these oils frequently, as they are chock-full of mood boosting, anti-bacterial and detoxifying benefits, are wonderful for cleaning, and they make your aromatherapy blends sing.
Longest: Roots, resins and barks
Tree essential oils last for many years, up to 6-8 years (or more) when in a protective/dark bottle at room temperature. These essential oils are extremely shelf stable and can be used for many years without any degradation. This includes oils with deep aromas like Vetiver, Ginger, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Palo Santo, Balsam Peru, Copaiba Balsam, Cinnamon Bark, Patchouli and Turmeric.
Mid-Range: Leaves, flowers, seeds, & grasses
Essential oils of flowers, like rose, lavender and chamomile, are also very stable and last for 3-5 years or longer, when in dark/protective bottles at room temperature. The same can be said for leaf oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, myrtle and tea tree, as well as for grasses like lemongrass and citronella, and seeds like cardamom and fennel. These typically middle note oils are often the heart of a blend, and offer a variety of benefits, from respiratory (leaves) to skin healing (flowers) and digestive aids (seeds).
A Note on Absolutes: An absolute is the most concentrated form of fragrance and highly regarded in natural perfumery, but are not essential oils, and do not have aromatherapeutic benefits. Having gone through a process of solvent extraction and then filtered with alcohol, these are extremely shelf stable aromatics with a shelf life of 5-6 years or more. Keep in dark bottles at room temperature and you will surely use up these oils before there’s any issue with its shelf life.
When it comes to the freshness of essential oils, use your nose to guide you: if it still smells appealing and true to scent, it can be perfectly fine even beyond the above estimated shelf lives. However, if the oil smells “off”, unpleasant or not as you remembered, it may be time to toss it and purchase a fresh batch. As time progresses, its potency will reduce slightly, but if you are a frequent user and going through your oils within 3 years, you’ll generally be fine no matter what type of essential oil it is.
The most important thing is to utilize and enjoy these precious and powerful oils, rather than leave them to sit! They can add so much joy and healing to our lives, in numerous ways throughout the day. For ideas on how to integrate them more fully into your life, check out our blog 21 Ways to Benefit from Essential Oils Every Day.