Does Perfume Expire? The Science Behind Fragrance Shelf Life
Many of us have a collection of perfume bottles beautifully displayed on our vanities. Considering the price point of most fragrances, do we need to be more careful about how we store them?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
"Fragrances are beautiful combinations of precious ingredients and natural extracts that have a finite shelf life — just like fresh-cut flowers.
It can be expected to last about two years, but with the right care, you can get it to last longer.”
- Givaudan Senior Perfumer, Stephen Nilsen (the largest fragrance manufacturer in the world) tells Cosmopolitan Magazine.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of preserving perfume, let's explore what happens to fragrances over time. Perfumes, composed of a blend of essential oils, aroma compounds, and solvents, are incredibly complex. While they can last for years when stored correctly, they can expire quickly if not properly protected.
What factors cause perfume and cologne to expire?
Oxygen is a perfume's enemy. Exposure to air causes the fragrance molecules to react with oxygen, altering their chemical composition. This process, known as oxidation, can lead to a change in scent, often resulting in a less pleasant or even rancid aroma.
Light can also be detrimental to perfumes. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can break down the chemical compounds in fragrances, leading to color changes and a weakened scent.
"[Fragrances] are fickle — they are made of up to 100 different tiny components — and those components can be very sensitive.
So, if you like the fragrance and you don't want it to shift, I would recommend you not keep it in the bathroom. . .
and because [most bottles] are clear, don't keep it in direct sunlight."
– Ni’Kita Wilson, cosmetic chemist, tells Refinery29
3. Temperature Fluctuations
Changing temperatures (like bathrooms, or when traveling) can cause the delicate aromatic compounds in perfumes to expand and contract. This can lead to evaporation, degradation, and a loss of the fragrance's original character.
4. Direct Heat
Exposure to direct heat sources, like radiators or sunlight, can accelerate the breakdown of perfume. High temperatures can cause the perfume to spoil and lose its potency.
"[And even though we like our fragrances to sit out and be exposed for all to see], having them out in the open for months will deteriorate the juice's smell faster than one protected from heat and light."
- Givaudan Senior Perfumer, Stephen Nilsen
Now that we understand what causes perfumes to break down, let's explore how to extend the shelf life of our favorite fragrances.
Tips for Preserving Perfume
1. Store in a Cool, Dark Place
To preserve your perfume's freshness, store it in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight and temperature fluctuations. Inside your WELLinsulated Performance Beauty Case or Travel Case, or in a closet or drawer in your bedroom is an ideal spot.
2. Keep the Cap On
Always keep the cap tightly secured when not in use. This prevents oxygen from getting in and helps maintain the fragrance's integrity.
3. Avoid the Bathroom
Bathrooms are notorious for humidity and temperature changes. These conditions can accelerate perfume deterioration, so it's best to keep your fragrances out of the bathroom. If you want to keep it in your bathroom for convenience, make sure it is an airtight protective case - like WELLinsulated - so it is protected from the harmful elements.
“Heat rises, so the top shelf behind your bathroom mirror just might be the worst spot for your perfumes.”
– Dr. Jessica Wu, Los Angeles dermatologist
If you want to go the extra mile, you can store some fragrances in the refrigerator. However, make sure they are well-sealed to avoid any unwanted odors from permeating the bottle and to protect it against humidity. You can even keep it inside your WELLinsulated organizer.
5. Rotate Your Collection
Use your oldest perfumes first. Fragrances, like food, have a shelf life, so it's a good practice to rotate your collection to ensure you use them before they deteriorate.
6. Natural fragrances require extra care
Natural products can be extra sensitive and reactive. The more preservatives the product has, the more heat stable and bacteria-resistant it will be.
Preserving your precious perfumes is a combination of science and good practice. Understanding what causes fragrance breakdown – oxidation, light exposure, temperature fluctuations, and heat – is the first step in ensuring your scents stand the test of time.