Do Perfumes Go Off? How to Tell If Perfume Has Expired
Can Perfume Expire?
Short answer: Yes. Perfumes can change their composition as they age, and they may start smelling different or causing allergic reactions that they didn't cause previously.
Perfumes don't usually come with obvious use-by dates, which makes it especially difficult to tell if they have gone bad. While a label on the box might say "Use within 12 months," that doesn't necessarily mean that you cannot use the product anymore after the time has passed—it just means that the quality of the perfume will have diminished after the recommended time.
Over the years, I have received multiple gift sets and bottles of perfume, and I have built up quite the collection. I recently made the decision to start using them, but I noticed that I've had some of them for over five years! It's awful, I know, but I tend to have just one favourite perfume and I only really use the others for work. I had to go through them all to determine whether they had gone off or if they were still usable.
Why Should I Check If My Perfume Has Expired?
Because of the different storage methods, temperatures, and general environmental issues that a bottle of perfume may have to endure in its lifetime, the chemical balance of the perfume can change—molecules in the perfume can break down and recombine. These chemical changes can cause irritation and even an allergic reaction if you don't stop using the perfume from your skin right away. This might make you think that you're allergic to your favourite perfume when, in fact, the bottle you have is simply out of date.
Does Expired Perfume Smell Different?
Yes, it does. This is the most obvious sign that your perfume has turned bad. When you spray it on, you probably won't like the smell of out-of-date perfume.
Now, depending on the type of perfume, there can be differences in smell when they expire. Personally, I have found that Eau de Toilette sprays tend to smell more like alcohol as they age. Let's face it, you don't want to walk around smelling like you've been drinking—especially first thing in the morning! On the other hand, Eau de Parfum sprays tend to take on an almost spicy, curry-like smell. Still, other perfumes simply lose their strength. It's hard to describe, but I assure you, you will notice the difference from the usual smell!
However, if you have a good, high-quality perfume, it is unlikely that it will go bad if you take proper care of it—that is, keep it from being exposed to light and heat. Some perfumes even smell better with age! In general, perfumes with heavy base notes that are nutty or woody will last longer than floral scents.
What Does Expired Perfume Look Like?
One of the first signs that a chemical change has happened is that the liquid changes colour, often turning darker. This can be difficult to judge if you haven't looked at the bottle for a while. Other times, the liquid takes on a milky appearance. You may start to see a milky layer at the bottom of the bottle where some of the particles have settled. But even if this change hasn't occurred, there is another obvious way to tell if the perfume has expired—its smell.
Is There a Way to Check the Recommended Expiration Date on Perfume and Cosmetics?
Yes. If you are interested in finding out the recommended date of expiration, you can use a cosmetic calculator that will show you when your bottle was manufactured using the batch code at the bottom of the bottle. This website also recommends using all perfume within three years of the date of manufacture, but, as you have discovered in this article, there are other ways to tell whether your perfume has expired or not. This can also be used to check the expiration date of other cosmetic products, such as makeup, skin care, and nail polish.
What Is the Average Shelf Life of Perfume and Cologne?
Most perfumes last for about 3–5 years. However, how long it takes for a perfume to expire really depends on the quality of the perfume—some may go bad after one year, while others last for 10 years. It also depends on how well you took care of it—if you keep your in a cupboard, stored in a dark bottle, and with the lid on, it will probably last longer. It's important to use the tips listed above to check if your perfume is still usable.
How Do I Prevent Perfume From Expiring?
Now, unfortunately, if you have discovered that your perfume is out of date, there is probably nothing better to do with it than dispose of it it, particularly if the scent has altered to some unpleasant spicy smell.
What you can do, however, is try to prevent this from happening again by storing your perfume properly. Proper storage could prevent your perfume from expiring prematurely, so make sure to:
- Keep your perfumes away from extreme heat or cold. Definitely do not freeze your perfume, and try to keep it in a place that's a little bit colder than room temperature.
- Keep them out of the bathroom. Though it's convenient to place your the bottles on a dresser or on your bathroom counter, it's probably not for the best if you want to make your perfumes last longer—the humidity and heat in the bathroom could speed up the breakdown of your favorite perfume.
- Store perfumes out of direct sunlight. This could mean transferring the liquid to a dark or frosted bottle. Or, if that's too complicated, simply keep your perfume in a cabinet or drawer.
- Keep the lid on. Scents with a high alcohol content could start to evaporate faster if they are not sealed properly, so be sure to replace the lid after each use.
Try to Use Up Your Fragrances
Think of your perfumes as consumables and use them in order of purchase, starting with the oldest first. You wouldn't use your freshest eggs first and let the older ones go to waste, would you? You should think of perfume in the same way.
There are many ways to maximize the use of your perfume so that you can get through the whole bottle before it expires. Here are a few ideas:
- Soak a few cotton balls in perfume, place them in a small mesh bag, and use them as clothes fresheners. You can also just spray it on a paper towel.
- Use it as an air freshener
- Place it in your car to keep that musty smell out.
- Spray it on a piece of paper to send a romantic letter to your significant other!
If there are perfumes that you simply don't like, perhaps arrange a swap with a friend. You wouldn't believe the number of bottles over the years I've received as gifts that I just can't wear for one reason or another. I'm sure there are plenty of others out there who are the same! You can also just gift them to a friend or to a women's shelter.
Remember, prevention is better than cure. Try to limit your consumption and spending to the things you need, and don't buy a new bottle of perfume until you've already used what you have. I'd definitely prefer to use up all of my bottles rather than dispose of them, but I unfortunately left it too late this time. Don't make the same mistake!
How Can I Dispose of Expired Perfume and Cosmetics Properly?
It happens to all of us—between all the scents that are out on the market right now, it can be all too easy to let the bottles of perfume and cologne pile up. Sometimes you get them as gifts, or sometimes you just fall in love with a certain smell; unfortunately, this often means that we start building a collection of perfumes that don't get used up before they expire.
If your perfume is already used up, feel free to just rinse the bottle and toss it in the recycling bin. You can also use the bottle as decoration on your shelf, either filled with beads or on its own. In addition, if you bought the perfume from a specific store, some companies—such as Lush and the Body Shop—will gladly take your perfume empties and recycle them properly. However, if there's still a sizeable amount of liquid in there and you don't know where to get rid of it, it'd be better to send it to a hazardous waste facility in your area, where they can dispose of your perfumes properly.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Lynsey Harte