Can Fragrances Expire? An Expert Weighs In

January 14, 2022
Alanna Martine Kilkeary
By: Alanna Martine Kilkeary | by L'Oréal
does fragrance expire

Believe it or not, fragrances have a shelf life. If you’re anything like us and have been holding onto the same bottles of perfume for years, you might want to listen up, because it is time to kiss some of your stash goodbye. There are a few ways to tell if your favorite fragrance is expiring, from a change in smell to a difference in texture. Ahead, we chatted with Matthew Mileo, fragrance expert and founder of Milèo New York, about what those signs are.

The Types of Fragrance That Expire Fastest

According to Mileo, fragrances expire based on how they’re formulated. “Natural fragrances (or a hybrid of natural and synthetic) last about two and a half to five years from the time of purchase,” he says. Synthetic fragrances can actually last up to 10 years due to the stability of the man-made ingredients, but this doesn’t take into account heat, light, formula or packaging, which can really change the longevity of the fragrance.

“I always find that fragrances which are base note-heavy (think: woody, mossy, earthy, resinous scents) last significantly longer in the bottle (and stay truer) than top note-heavy fragrances composed of citrus and aldehydes,” he adds. This is because woods (like sandalwood, buddha wood, etc.,) resin and plant oils (like patchouli) actually get better and more stable with age, according to Mileo.


“More delicate fragrances that contain lemon, orange, mint or bergamot can expire faster because they have the tendency to mix with other components in the fragrance in a more aggressive manner, which can alter its stability,” he says. Additionally, oil-based fragrances will expire more rapidly than alcohol-based fragrances.

How to Tell If a Fragrance Has Expired

The best way to determine if a fragrance is expiring is by paying close attention to the smell, texture, tone and coloring of the perfume. “If you detect an astringent note that wasn’t there before, it’s definitely starting to turn,” he says. “It will become vinegar-smelling and that’s when you know you have to toss it.”

If you notice crystallization on the outer edge of the dispenser it can mean your fragrance is oxidizing. It’s also important to check the translucency and coloring of the perfume on the regular. 

“There are some perfume hues that will change when exposed to light,” says Mileo. “The Milèo La Rose De Joell Elixir Oud changes from a rosy pink to a peachy pink, which is natural because the red pigment is the quickest to fade. But, if your product was gold when you purchased it and now it’s green, I’d do the test for smell, crystallization and translucency to see if any of those are also present, and if so, it’s time to say goodbye.”

Another sign that your perfume might be expiring is if your skin is starting to become irritated when you wear it, even if you’ve worn it a hundred times before. From tiny red spots, bumps or allergic reactions on the skin, check the label to see if there are any ingredients you might be allergic to, or ask the brand about what botanicals might be on in the bottle. “You can also look at the batch code on the underside of the fragrance bottle and inquire about the product’s expiration date,” says Mileo. “If you still have the box, the expiration date is listed as a PAO number, which is the number of months the product will last once opened.”

The Milèo La Rose De Joell Elixir Oud

What to Do When Your Fragrance Expires

The best way to get rid of an expired fragrance is to pour the contents out of the bottle into a sink, and rinse the drain with hot water and soap to remove oils. “The surfactants in the soap will act as a solvent for the remaining fragrance to easily filter through the septic system,” he says. 

Next, recycle it, as fragrances usually come in glass bottles. “The hardest part of disposing of fragrance bottles is taking off all the plastic components first,” Mileo notes. “That means the cap, nozzle, and that pesky plastic straw all need to be taken apart before the glass can be recyclable.”

Mileo also suggests that there are great ways to repurpose perfume bottles to use as vases, candle holders, etc. “There’s no excuse not to recycle, resell or repurpose fragrance bottles!”

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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