5 Telltale Signs Your Perfume Is Expired, According to ExpertsDecember 21, 2022
Does perfume expire? Believe it or not, all fragrances do 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’s time to kiss some of your prized collection 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 two fragrance experts, Matthew Mileo, founder of Milèo New York, and Frances Shoemack, founder of Abel, about what those signs are.
Do Perfumes and Fragrances Expire?
The answer is yes, perfumes do expire — but the expiration window can vary from fragrance to fragrance. 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.
Regardless of formulation, most scents will stay fresh for at least one year, Shoemack says, or even longer if they are stored correctly. But, she adds, it’s worth noting that “the more oxygen in the bottle, the more quickly the scent will develop.” So, don’t expect to use up most of your favorite perfume and then save the last drop for a special occasion years down the line. It might not smell the same as the last time you wore it.
Signs Your Perfume or Fragrance Has Expired
All fragrances age, or “develop,” as Shoemack says, and this development isn’t always a bad thing. “One of our fragrances, Cobalt Amber, develops really beautifully in the bottle — the color gets darker and the scent smoother. We say like a fine wine, it gets better with age!” says Shoemack. “But like wine, not all scents will age gracefully. When it starts to smell sour or metallic or any other note you don't like, then you know the time is up.”
For more signs your perfume has gone sour (literally!), keep reading.
Sign #1: The Scent Changes
“Both color and smell are good indications, but smell is definitely the most important factor to pay attention to,” says Shoemack. She recommends paying special attention to any sour, metallic or astringent notes that you didn’t previously smell — these are all signs your perfume may be expired or on the verge of expiration. Once it becomes “vinegar-smelling,” Mileo says, you’ll know the fragrance is ready to be tossed (for tips on how to dispose of your perfume bottle properly, keep reading).
Sign #2: The Fragrance Starts to Crystalize
If you notice small crystals forming on the outer edge of your perfume dispenser, it might mean your fragrance is oxidizing. If the smell is off too, it’s time for retirement.
Sign #3: The Fragrance Turns More Opaque
Another sign your fragrance may be oxidizing is a change in opacity. If your perfume was originally a translucent golden color in the bottle and has since turned cloudy or more opaque, it could be time to toss it — provided the scent has started to turn bad too.
Sign #4: There’s a Shift in Color
“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.”
Sign #5: The Fragrance Starts to Irritate Your Skin
Another sign that your perfume might be expired 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.”
Types of Perfumes and Fragrances That Expire the Fastest
“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,” Mileo says. 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. Maison Margiela Replica By The Fireplace is one such example — in this fragrance, you’ll find warm, woodsy base notes of vanilla accord, Peru Balsam resinoid and cashmeran.
Heavier fragrances are more likely to smell better with age, as opposed to their lighter counterparts. Fragrances that contain a lot of citrus notes, such as bergamot orange, tend to turn sour, while heavier notes like vanilla will become “darker and more leathery,” Shoemack says.
“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,” says Mileo. If you love citrus fragrances but want to make sure they last a long time, look for ones with woodsy notes, resins or plant oils at the base, such as the Giorgio Armani Beauty Acqua di Gioia Eau de Parfum, where zesty lemon top notes open up to notes of sultry jasmine and a grounded cedarwood base.
Additionally, oil-based fragrances will expire more rapidly than alcohol-based fragrances.
Does Fragrance Expire if Unopened?
As Shoemack pointed out above, the more you spray a bottle of perfume, the more oxygen enters the bottle — the more oxygen enters the bottle, the faster it expires. So you may be able to stretch a few more months (or years) out of an unopened perfume bottle than an open one, provided you choose a bottle with heavy base notes and store the fragrance correctly.
How to Store Perfumes and Fragrances
If you splurged on a luxury fragrance and want to keep it smelling fresh for as long as possible, you’re definitely going to want to follow these tips. As Shoemack and Mileo pointed out, certain fragrances can last as long as five years with the proper storage conditions.
Find a Cool, Dark Storage Spot
“One of the worst places to store perfume is in your bathroom where the temperature fluctuates and there is a lot of humidity,” says Shoemack. Instead, store your fragrance somewhere with a cool, consistent temperature, away from sunlight. (“Might be pretty for the Instagram shelfie but not so much for the perfume's shelf life!” Shoemack says.)
Don’t have a cool, dark spot for your fragrances to live? Shoemack says you can also stash them in the fridge. Unlike your bedroom or bathroom, your fridge will maintain a stable (and cold) temperature.
Hang Onto the Box
It’s a smart idea to keep your fragrance inside its original box to further filter out sunlight. Even if your perfume came in a fully opaque bottle, Shoemack says the fragrance still won’t be protected from heat, temperature fluctuations or humidity. Plus, as Mileo mentioned above, the box your perfume came in may have a PAO number on the bottom, which will help you find the fragrance’s estimated expiration date.
What to Do When Your Perfume or 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,” notes Mileo. “That means the cap, nozzle and that pesky plastic straw all need to be taken apart before the glass can be recyclable.”
Mileo also says that there are great ways to repurpose perfume bottles to use as vases, candle holders or even as makeup brush containers. “There’s no excuse not to recycle, resell or repurpose fragrance bottles!” he says.
We like to keep our prettiest perfume bottles, like the Valentino Born in Roma For Her Eau de Parfum or the Giorgio Armani Beauty My Way Intense, as eye-catching keepsakes on our vanities long after they’ve expired.