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  • How to Tell if You Need to Replace Your Essential Oils

    Something smells bad

    When Essential Oils Go Bad

    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.

    A Story of Subtlety

    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.

    The Problems

    There are 4 main enemies of essential oils: Heat, extreme temperature changes, sunlight, and oxidation.

    Oxidation 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:

    • The  oil has changed color
    • The oil has changed viscosity and gotten either thinner or thicker
    • The oil smells different than it usually does
    • The oil smells bad
    • You don’t get the same effects from it as you used to – even if it still smells as wonderful as ever
    • It causes an adverse reaction that you’ve never experienced with this oil before. (This can also be a sign that you’ve become sensitized to an oil and therefore should avoid it forevermore. Telling the difference = way beyond the scope of this post.)

    Make Your Oils Last as Long as Possible

    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:

    • Check the average shelf life of the oils you use (it will vary widely from oil to oil, due to differences in each oil’s chemistry)
    • Write the date on the label when you open a bottle – In case you’re wondering… no, I did not have a date on my bottle of lavender. Doh!
    • Buy smaller quantities of the oils you don’t use very quickly or ones that have a shorter shelf life
    • Check recommended storage temperatures for the oils you have.
    • Store your essential oils in a cool dry place
    • Store the most temperature sensitive oils in a refrigerator
    • Store your oils out of direct sunlight
    • Bonus points: buy small bottles, caps, and reducers and decant your oils into smaller bottles as you use them to keep headspace to a minimum.

    Making the Best of a Bad Situation

    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:

    • Put a couple drops in the trash to keep it from stinking
    • Put a couple drops in your vacuum bag to freshen the house
    • Diffuse it for its fragrance
    • Put 1-3 drops in the toilet bowl right before use to prevent unwanted odors – so you don’t have to try to mask them afterward.

    If you have an oil that now smells bad:

    • Toss it
    • Seriously. Don’t do anything else with it.

    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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