When essential oils go bad, they don’t get drunk and crash the car or wreck the house. They don’t get little flecks of mold or mildew on them to warn us that we probably shouldn’t use them. They’re much more subtle than that, and that can present some problems.
I keep a bottle of lavender essential oil in my medicine chest to help me sleep and for use on minor cuts & burns. A couple of weeks ago, I burned myself on a hot pan while cooking. I rinsed it in cold water for a while, dried it off, then put a drop of lavender on it. It smelled just as wonderful as ever and I took a deep breath so I could really enjoy the scent. My lavender oil usually takes the heat out of a small burn within minutes, often less. This time… nothing. The heat didn’t go away. I tried another drop thinking I’d missed part of the burn. This time I was extra careful to make sure the entire burn area was covered. The heat remained. For a short time, I was flummoxed. I’d used this exact bottle on numerous burns and it had always worked. Then it hit me, the oil must have oxidized.
There are 4 main enemies of essential oils: Heat, extreme temperature changes, sunlight, and oxidation.
Oxidization happens as an oil gets older and is exposed to the air. Even the small amount of air above the oil inside a 15ml bottle (the headspace) is enough to oxidize and ruin your oil. I’m not going to go into the chemistry of how it all happens because I know that you probably don’t care all that much about the chemistry. You just want to know how to tell if your oil has gone bad. And how to make it last as long as possible.
So here goes… You will want to replace your essential oil if:
Remember, the 4 biggest enemies of essential oils are heat, sunlight, temperature fluctuations, and oxidation. Minimizing your oil’s exposure to these will go a long way toward making them last longer.
Here are a few best practices to make your oils last longer:
If you have an oil that has gone bad but still smells fine, don’t use it for therapeutic purposes. (That’s obvious, right?) Instead, you can still get some use out of it, and save some of your investment if you use it for one of the following:
If you have an oil that now smells bad:
Now go and check your essential oils. If any of them stink, throw them away. If some have changed color, scent and/or viscosity but still have a pleasing smell, put them aside and don’t use them for therapeutic purposes. Then, replace those bottles with smaller ones. For instance, if the oils that went bad were in 15 ml bottles, buy them in 5 ml bottles instead. One more thing, don’t be like me… when your new oils come in, remember to write the date you opened them on the label so you can easily reference it against that oil’s average shelf life.
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