Proper essential oil storage is very important because EOs are volatile and the oils' quality can deteriorate quickly if stored improperly. This page explains how we should store EOs.
Always store essential oils in dark-glass bottles, in a cool dark place. Keep the tops tightly closed except when you are using the oils. Try not to leave too much "head room" in the bottle - too much oxygen in the bottle can quicken oxidation, making the oil unsafe to use.
If you live in a hot country, consider storing your oils in a refrigerator. Note, however, that if you choose to store your essential oils in your fridge with all your food, remember to first put your bottles of oils in a sealed container; otherwise, your food will start smelling like your oils!
If you have a lot of EOs, consider getting a small fridge just for essential oil storage. It's really worth it.
Do not store undiluted essential oils in plastic bottles – the oils will eat away the plastic. For oil blends or products that contain essential oils (e.g. lotion, bath salt, soap, etc.) it is still preferable to store them in glass bottles and jars. However, since we don’t want to use glass containers in the shower or when we are traveling, blends should then be stored in bottles or jars that are made of PET plastic.
Here is a great online store that sells a wide range of bottles, jars, tin cans, etc. for storage of essential oils, blends, and other aromatherapy goodies.
Indeed - why do we have to take all these precautions?
The reason is, light, heat, and oxygen can speed up oxidation of essential oils – a process which in effect breaks down the oils. When essential oils are stored properly (in closed bottles in a cold, dark place), they last longer.
How then do we know if an essential oil has oxidized?
Good question! Actually, it is not easy to tell... Essential oils are not fatty oils, so they don't smell rancid even when they have oxidized. (On the other hand, carrier oils like avocado oil, sweet almond oil, etc. do).
The best way to make sure that we are not using oxidized oils is to keep track of the shelf lives of each oil that we have bought. If you have a lot of oils, consider using a spreadsheet.
Note that the countdown of an oil's shelf life starts on the distillation date, NOT the date you bought the oil. So if, say, you bought a bottle of Lime EO on June 1, 2016 and the distillation date was January 1, 2016, then the approximate expiry date of that bottle is around January 2017 (since citrus oils usually last for 1 year from the distillation date).
That's why it is so important to find an essential oil store that provides information like distillation dates so we know approximately when we have to replace the oils before they become oxidized.
What happens if we use essential oils that have oxidized?
First of all, we won’t get any therapeutic properties from the oils. Even worse, if we apply essential oils that have oxidized to our skin, we risk the possibility of developing skin irritation.
How long will an oil last before it starts to oxidize?
Different types of essential oils oxidize at different speeds, which means that different oils have different shelf lives, and it is hard to determine exactly how long an oil will last, as it depends on many factors – the type of oil, the way it is being stored, etc.
If you buy an oil not too long after distillation (that’s why you need to read the label carefully!) and it is being stored properly, we can use the following generalization:
For oils that are “light” and have a top note (like most citrus oils), they usually last for 1-2 years from distillation.
For oils that are heavier and have a middle or base note, they can last for 3-5 years. There are some really stable oils like Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) and Patchouli (Pogostemom cablin) and they can last for even longer (6-8 years).
Here are some oxidation-prone oils (i.e. oils with relatively short shelf lives):
|Essential Oil||Estimated Shelf Life|
|Angelica (Angelica archangelica)||18 months|
|Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)||2 years|
|Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)||2 years|
|Elemi (Canarium luzonicum)||2 years|
|Fir, Siberian (Abies sibirica)||2 years|
|Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)||2 years|
|Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)||1 year|
|Juniper Berry (Juniperus communis)||2 years|
|Lemon (Citrus limon)||1 year|
|Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)||2 years|
|Lemon Tea Tree (Leptospermum petersonii)||2 years|
|Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)||1 year|
|Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)||1 year|
|May Chang (Litsea cubeba)||2 years|
|Melissa (Melissa officinalis)||2 years|
|Orange, Sweet (Citrus sinensis)||1 year|
|Spruce (Picea mariana)||2 years|
|Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)||2 years|
Finally, since essential oils are potent and concentrated, we need to store them at home in a safe place out of the reach of young children and pets.