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Shelf Life and Stability of the Best Essential Oils

Updated on January 25, 2016

Usage and Shelf Life of Essential Oils

Shelf Life for Essential Oils

To have a better understanding about the shelf life of essential oils, it is important to know the 4 basic types of oils, their derivatives and the process used to obtain the oils.

Essential Oils: The process of distilling these oils great effect the value and the potency of the oil. Since essential oils are distilled at 140 degrees if you find you have forgotten and left your oil in a hot car for the day, you can remain its integrity but simply keeping it closed and cooling it back down by removing it from the heat source. Although keeping any essential oil in heat is not recommended this derivative of oil will not immediately be effected. The oil will blend back together after it cools back down to room temperature.

Citrus Oils: These oils are not distilled and are made from raw fruits or the rind of the fruit. They are cold pressed and have the shortest shelf life. Citrus oils should be maintained at room temperature and absolutely no higher than degrees. Refrigeration of Citrus oils can assist in stabilizing and providing the longest shelf life.

Absolute Oils: These oils are extracted from chemical solvents and are not distilled. They are very sensitive to heat. The compounds of these types of oils would be jeopardized and destroyed through a distilling process. Making a habit of keeping all your Absolute and Blended oils either refrigerated or at moderate room temperature will provide you with maximum shelf life.

Carrier Oils: They are mixer type oils that greatly affect the essential oils itself. A few examples of Carrier oils, would include, vegetable oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil and coconut oil. These oils quickly degrade the therapeutic effect of the oil you are combining it with and the Carrier oil itself will become rancid. This is the main reason, that essential or absolute oils should be combined with carrier oils in small amounts prior to usage.

Like anything your essential oils do have a “best when used by” time frame. This question is often of concern to individuals who use essential oils. Luckily, most essential oils have a lengthy shelf life. Especially when they are stored properly. As tempting as it might be to have a large inventory of oils available to you, it is just as important to be certain the oils that you are using are fresh and it their best. Dating each bottle with the date you purchased it will be an invaluable resource as your inventory grows. When purchasing, it is also highly recommended that you ask when the particular oil was distilled. Any reputable dealer will understand the importance of this question and will have the answer readily available.

Keeping in mind that Essential oils are “nature made”, each crop will vary some in their potency and the distiller your oil came from will also play a part in your oil maintaining its potency and integrity. The dealer you purchase your oils from and the inventory they keep will also factor into the equation.

All essential oils, should be kept cool and in a dark place. Refrigeration of essential oils is recommended when possible. Most essential oils come in dark glass bottles and should remain in these types of containers. Amber or Cobalt colored glass bottles are considered the best. However, as the oil is used and the amount in the bottles decrease, removing them from the larger bottle they were purchased in and replacing them in smaller dark bottles to decrease the “head room” will also assist in maintaining the integrity of the oil and help eliminate oxidation. It is never recommended to store your essential oils in a plastic bottle or with bottles that have a dropper. The oils will eat into the plastic and ruin your oils. It should also be noted that many essential oils can be flammable so avoid placing them in situations that could be dangerous for flammability.

When oils are introduced to heat, light and air a process known as oxidation begins. This process changes the chemical balance, appearance and often times the odor. The change in the odor is one apparent sign that the oxidation process has begun, along with a change in consistency and or color. When an oil begins to oxidize, the oil in many cases will cause a contact dermatitis on the skin. This skin rash can be very painful and irritating.

The majority of essential oils have a shelf life of 2-5 years and some even more time. For example, Rose Otto Oil improves with age if it is stored properly. Rose Otto oil should be kept refrigerated to eliminate its ability to evaporate even when tightly capped.

Oils such as Patchouli, Cedar wood and Sandalwood have some of the longest shelf lives. As a rule of thumb the thicker oils do maintain a longer shelf life.

There are only a few oils which have a shelf life shorter than two years. For example, citrus and pine oils which are used for uplifting your spirits and for disinfectants. These oils should be used at their freshest and purest quality. These oils should be replaced every 10-12 months even when being stored properly.

Waste not want not as they say, these oils do not have to be thrown out. They can still be very useful for household cleaning and room freshening. A few drops of pine oil or a citrus oil in a bucket of water will provide you with the benefits of a natural cleaner. Placing a few drops of these oils down your sinks and drains and flushing with hot water will also help in eliminating odors. How about 2-3 drops in the bottom of your trash cans or inside the roll of your toilet paper roll to provide a fresh hidden fragrance. Even if their germicidal potency is not what it was when the oil was fresh, it still provides a certain amount of germicidal properties and they are still great “odor eaters”.


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