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February 06, 2022 7 min read

Perfume is perhaps one of the most important accessories in a wardrobe. Besides masking body odour, it brings backs splendid memories and emotions. In addition, it complements the users’ outfits, personalities, and moods.

However, if you have a growing collection of perfumes, chances are you’ve wondered if perfume expires. If that’s the case, then this article is for you.

Like food, perfume expires. But unlike food, you can still use the scent past its expiry date. That’s true if it still smells good and has the same colour, fragrance, and consistency as when you purchased it.

But remember, perfumes differ in terms of ingredients and chemical composition. That explains why fragrances come with different expiration dates.

In this piece, you will learn everything about how long unopened and opened perfume last, how to tell if a perfume has expired and how to store your fragrances properly.

Fragrance Shelf Life

Have you ever looked forward to spritzing your favourite signature fragrance for a special occasion, only to find out its scent is off? Then, there’s a high probability your perfume has expired.

In most cases, articles talking about how long does perfume lasts typically talk about how long the scent lingers on the skin all day, but not its shelf life. However, it’s important to learn about a perfume’s lifespan because at some point the fragrance will go bad and you might have to throw it away.

Most beauty products have a little symbol in the packages that outline their shelf life. But most perfumes don’t come with such a handy hint. The good news is perfumes have an average shelf life of about three to five years from production date. But this hugely depends on the fragrance chemical makeup. As a fact, certain high-quality perfumes can lose their potency after 10 years, while others after one or two years.

There are also several factors that affect a perfume’s shelf life–most significantly the way you store it. If stored correctly, a perfume can even last up to 30 years. But when an opened or unopened bottle of scent gets exposed to environmental factors like natural and artificial light, heat, and humidity, the fragrance expire faster.

Hight temperature and UV light break down the scent’s chemical composition, causing the fragrance to expire faster, resulting in an unpleasant smell. In most cases, you might not experience an adverse reaction to an expired fragrance. But remember, breakdown of a perfume’s chemical structure results in compounds that can cause skin irritations, and in extreme cases, an allergic reaction. So, if you suspect your favourite scent has expired, it’s wise to test it before spritzing on.

Does Perfume Expire?

As we mentioned above, fragrances expire, whether you have bought an expensive or cheap brand. But, it’s hard to predict how long a perfume can stay good if left unopened. If left exposed to environmental factors like high temperature and direct sunlight, an unopened perfume can develop a disgusting smell. The perfumes will also leave spots on your white shirts or dresses.

But this is not always the case? Properly stored unopened perfumes, especially those with heavier base notes (amber and patchouli), last longer. Some even develop sweeter smells and rich gold colour with age, and people compare these products to fine wine. Fragrances with lighter base notes like citrus, aromatic and floral tend to expire faster since these notes are often volatile.

According to fragrance experts, there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to the fragrance expiration date. Based on the personal experience of these professionals, it’s wise to toss your perfume bottles after one to three years.

If your unopened bottle contains perfume with vegetable oil, then it will develop a foul smell after some time. But if the key component is essential oil - common in natural fragrances- the perfume will have a longer shelf life.

On that note, it’s wise to finish a single bottle of perfume - especially if it comes with a shorter shelf life -before opening another one.

How To Identify an Expired Perfume?

Are you concerned that your old signature scent has expired? Below are a few ways to check if your fragrance has reached its expiration period.

Take A Whiff

The easiest way to identify an expired perfume is by taking a nose test. Fragrances, particularly those containing vegetable oils, tend to go bad over time. They end up developing a metallic or vinegar-like smell, unlike fragrances with essential oils.

The change in a fragrance’s smell can also result from the oxidation of top notes. If air enters a perfume bottle, it can alter the volatile aromatic molecules, resulting in stale smell. Luckily, most fragrances today contain UV filters and stabilisers, that make the molecules less susceptible to oxidation. If your perfume has lost its original scent, it’s probably going bad, and it’s time to dispose of it.

Check The Shade

Even before opening your perfume, try to identify any changes in the fragrance colour. If in the beginning, your fragrance had a clear gold colour, but now it has changed to an amber liquid, there’s a high chance it has reached its expiry period.

Another thing, perfumes with a high concentration of alcohol tend to evaporate over time. That explains why sometimes you might find less perfume in the bottle than you had left it. If you notice a significant change in perfume colour or concentration, your perfume might be going bad.

Note The Expiry Date

Last but not least, check your perfume’s expiry date. The date is typically found at the bottom of the perfume bottle or packaging as either a batch code or Period After Opening (PAO). The bar code or catalog number can also help you determine when the fragrance expires.

PAO Number: It’s often indicated as an open jar symbol with a number on the perfume bottle. The number represents the number of months you can use your opened perfume before it reaches its expiry period. The number usually ranges between 30 to 36 months, meaning two and half years of usage. After the period elapses, you can start checking if your fragrance has gone bad.

Batch Code: It’s a series of codes that specify where a scent got manufactured. Manufacturers often use these codes for quality control. For instance, if there’s a bad batch released to the market, the codes can help them identify the exact lot. Batch codes usually consist of 12 numbers, but some have letters too.

Apart from that, check your favourite perfume ingredients. Fragrances made from citrus and florals tend to have a shorter life because of their volatile nature. But oud, woody, and oriental scents often last long. The same applies to fragrances comprising natural ingredients.

If you still cannot determine if your perfume has expired, seek the help of a friend or a fragrance expert.

4 Ways to Store Perfume Properly to Increase its Shelf Life

Keep It Away from Direct Sunlight

Keep your perfumes away from sunlight at all costs. Heat breaks down the fragrance formula, changing its colour and making it lose its potency. And if you have stored the content in a plastic bottle, the excess heat might wrap the container, leaching tiny bits of plastic into the liquid. According to our personal experience, you can extend your perfume longevity by storing it in a cold, dry, and dark place like its original container or wardrobe.

Don’t Move the Fragrance into Decorative Perfume Bottles

Some individuals love transferring their perfume into a new bottle. But that is a bad idea because they usually end up exposing their fragrances to air. As a result, making the liquid more susceptible to oxidation and bacteria exposure. Air also increases the evaporation of the alcohol inside, expediting the expiry process.

Avoid Places with Harsh Temperature fluctuations

Sometimes you might get tempted to store your fragrances in the bathroom for several reasons, like ease of access. But don’t! Bathroom temperatures usually vary a lot, and also it is a humid place. Therefore, it poses a threat to perfume’s chemical balance and potency. The same goes for a car gloves box and near the window. You are better off storing your old and new fragrances in a bedroom drawer, refrigerator, or wine cellar.

Avoid Buying Many Perfumes at The Same Time

Some people often take advantage of the best deals on perfume like discounts, to purchase several brands of scents. But having 10 aftershaves or Eau de perfume will only increase their risk of going bad. If you must have many perfumes in your home, consider getting only 100ml bottles of those perfumes you use every day. For special occasion fragrances, get a sample kit of 50 ml.

Also, don’t let any fragrance go to waste, even if you got it through a coupon list. Take the last few drops remaining in the bottle and mix them with your unscented lotion to avoid wastage.

Final Thoughts

Perfume usage dates back to ancient Egypt, and it had many uses in both religion and medicine. Today, individuals use perfume to mask or enhance their natural scent or boast their appeal. Others use it to trigger memories. For example, a vanilla fragrance can remind you of your grandmother’s sweet fresh cookies and so on.

That said, all brands of perfume expire. But their expiry dates vary because of differences in chemical composition and ingredients. Storage methods also play a vital role in determining how long open and unopened perfumes last. Properly stored fragrances can last for years. So, make sure you store your perfumes in a cabinet where they can’t get exposed to heat, humidity, or sunlight.

As you can see, it’s hard to say for sure how long does unopened perfume lasts. But if you follow the storage tips listed above, you can extend its shelf life significantly.

In conclusion, expired fragrance poses no threat to the users. As long as the perfume smells good and leaves no marks on your clothes, you can use it. But first, test it on your wrist to see if it causes any skin irritation.