The first thing that we do when we wake up is make a cup of coffee. We both like to add heavy cream. It’s creamy, and the coffee ends up being the absolute perfect color!
Yesterday, we poured the cream in the coffee, and it curdled. Gross. We checked the expiration date and the cream still had about 11 days till expiration. Of course, we threw it out. Searching in the back shelves of the fridge, we found a container of heavy cream that had an expiration date 10 days before. We took a chance and poured it, and to our delight, it was still good.
This prompted a discussion on shelf life and essential oils. The topic of the shelf life of essential oils is hot in the world of aromatherapy these days. And there is absolutely truth to shelf life of oils depending in part due to the chemistry. BUT there is a whole lot more to it than that!
When do essential oils expire?
It seems that we think that the oil actually knows that it is supposed to “expire” on a certain date. This is, of course, untrue. We have seen so many people get rid of their oils because they believe the oil has oxidized simply because the oil is so many years old.
The analogy here is that I should die on my 55th birthday even though I am very healthy because that is the “shelf life” assigned to me by someone that I do not even know. When looking at it in this context, it seems that that overgeneralization about shelf life is a bit off. Don’t you think?
So the question we are often asked is, “What is the shelf life of this particular oil?”
The so-called shelf life or oxidation of an essential oil is extremely difficult to predict with any certainty because of the tremendous amount of variables. The shelf life of an essential oil is governed in part by its chemical stability, and anything that interferes with this stability will cause the oil to start the slow process of deterioration. And here is where the tangible variables come in. We also believe that there are energetic variables that contribute to the shelf life of an oil (but that is yet another story).
Shelf Life Begins at the Seed
The story begins when and how the seed is sowed, so to speak. Here are some (but not all) of the factors that will have an effect the lifespan of an oil:
- The quality of the botanical being extracted
- When the plant is harvested
- How the plant is harvested
- The method of extraction
- The conditions of the extraction process
- The handling and storage of the oil, absolute or extract by the distiller
- The handling of the oils by the essential oil company you are purchasing from
- The way in which the oils are stored by the company
- And finally, the way you store them
We cannot speak for other companies’ oils, but can for ours. This is our process in sourcing our oils and extracts:
- We have close relationships with all of our distillers and have known them for years and years.
- We do not purchase from essential oil brokers.
- We do not look for “deals” when purchasing our oils.
- When we receive them, we energetically detox them (this may sound funny or woo-woo to some of you, but believe us it really makes a difference).
- We then decant the oil into 32-ounce amber bottles in a ceremonious manner.
- We nitrogen cap our oils (which means that there is no air in the bottle and this prevents oxidation).
- We store all our oils in refrigerators between 35 – 40 degrees.
- We do not pre-pour our oils into the smaller bottles.
- We hand-pour the oils when an order comes in from a 4-ounce pouring bottle. (This means that the 32-ounce bottle is opened only 8 times or less. Which is very important, actually).
Robert Tisserand wrote a blog a while back about keeping oils cool. It was entitled Lemon on the Rocks (and we were honored that he used pictures of our refrigerators!) Anyway, here is a paragraph from his blog, “The limonene content of lemon oil decreased from 67.1% to 30.7% in 12 months when the oil was stored at 77°F (25°C) with the cap removed for three minutes every day. However, storage at 41°F 5°C, with the cap removed for three minutes only once a month, resulted in minimal degradation (Sawamura et al 2004). When lemongrass oil was intentionally oxidized, it lost almost all of its antibacterial activity (Orafidiya 1993).”
So back to the cream, we knew it was way past its shelf life because we know our cream. THE BOTTOM LINE IS KNOW YOUR OILS. Then you will know when your oil is past its shelf life.