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Do Perfumes Go Off? How to Tell if Perfume Has Expired

Updated on September 21, 2016

Yes, perfumes when they age can change their composition, so that they smell different than they used to, and cause allergic reactions when they did not use to.

Perfumes don't come with use-by dates; it's a well-known fact. What isn't so well known, however, is how to tell if they have gone bad. While a label or sign might say to use within 12 months, or 24 months, it doesn't necessarily mean that the products expire after this time, so how can you tell?

Over the years, I have received gift sets and bottles of perfume, and I have built up quite a collection. I recently made a decision to start using them, and I noticed that I had had some of them for over five years! It's awful, I know, but I tend to have a favourite perfume, and I only really use the others for work. So, I had to go through them to determine whether they had gone off, or if they were still usable.

Why Does It Matter?

Because of the different storage methods, temperatures, and general environmental issues that perfume may have to endure in its lifetime, the chemical balance within 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 remove the perfume from your skin right away. The reaction may make you think you are allergic to your favourite perfume, when, in fact, the bottle you have is simply out of date.

How can you prevent this kind of allergic reaction in the future?

Appearance

One of the first signs that a chemical change has happened is that the liquid changes colour. Sometimes the colour of the perfume gets darker, which can be difficult to judge if you haven't looked at the bottle for a while. Sometimes the liquid takes on a milky appearance. If so you may also see a milky layer on the bottom, where some of the particles have settled. If this change hasn't occurred, there is another obvious way to tell if the perfume has expired.

Smell

This is the most obvious sign. When you spray it on, you probably won't like the smell of out-of-date perfume.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. Then again, some perfumes simply lose their strength. It's hard to describe, but I assure you, you will notice the difference from the usual smell!

Prevention

Now, unfortunately, if you have discovered that your perfume is out of date, there is probably nothing better to do with it than bin it, particularly if the scent has altered to some unpleasant spicy smell.

What you can do, though, is try to prevent this from happening again.

Proper storage of your perfumes is important, because if they are exposed to extreme temperatures (hot or cold), or to light, they could turn bad. Storing in a cool, dark place, out of direct sunlight, would be best.

Think of your perfumes as consumables, and use them in order if possible, starting with the oldest first. You wouldn't use fresh eggs first, and let the other ones go to waste, would you?

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 who are the same!

Remember, prevention is better than cure. I'd definitely prefer to use up all of my bottles rather than dispose of them, but unfortunately I left it too late this time. Don't make the same mistake!

© 2013 Lynsey Harte

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      Brianna Stuart 4 years ago

      I had J-Lo Glow perfume for more than 3 years and it still smells great... If it smelled bad, I would have thrown it out by now thought. Its almost gone, so I'm going to use the rest unless the smell changes I guess.

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      Lynsey Harte 4 years ago from Glasgow

      yeah, its so hard to put a timeframe on it! I had a bottle of perfume I got for my 16th birthday that still smelt good when i was 21!! That's why i made this hub, because it is quite hard to tell :)

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      Tupac Shakur 2 years ago

      i received a fragrance in 1996 and it still smells good today in 2014. Versace blue jeans

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      Lynsey Harte 2 years ago from Glasgow

      Yes tupac, a timeless classic. Not all perfumes smell bad, they can just lose their power over time. Well done on getting a good run out of your Versace!

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      Sarah 2 years ago

      I adore Estee by Estee Lauder, I've had it for just under a year and it does not smell bad, but it definitely does not smell as heavenly from when I first got it. I've had strangers stop and ask me what I was wearing (when it was fresh) but not anymore. I was really hoping to find a 'made on' date to determine how long it's been on the store shelves. (was wondering if the possible 'made on' date was in code)

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      Lynsey Harte 2 years ago from Glasgow

      I'm sure there is a way to find this out. Maybe a batch number of some kind? But, unfortunately I don't know the secret to that! If you find out, please let me know :-)

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      City 15 months ago

      Yeah there is a code in the bottom of each bottle. Then go to

      http://checkcosmetic.net/ and click the brand name and type in your code. It'll then show which month and year your bottle was manufactured. It also says to use your bottle 3 years from date of manufacture.

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      Lynsey Harte 15 months ago from Glasgow

      Hi City! Thanks for that info- I'm gonna have to try that with some of my other bottles! I have found, though, that plenty of perfumes last longer than recommended, so the sniff test is always a good one!

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      Suzy 11 months ago

      I found some bottles of perfume that belonged to my mother. They are at least 20 years pld. I don't know what they are supposed to smell like so cannot tell if they have spoiled.

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      Lynsey Harte 11 months ago from Glasgow

      It is likely that the scent may have changed a bit from their best, but if they still smell good, I don't see why you couldn't use them. Just be careful as your skin may be sensitive to them.

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      said 6 months ago

      thanks you so much

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      mary 6 months ago

      I want to get some answers so I read it.

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      Lynsey Harte 6 months ago from Glasgow

      Thanks for dropping by, Mary, hope you found hat you were looking for.

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      Meia 3 months ago

      I have a really big collection of perfume and I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to use it all before the recommended three years of use time was up! Thanks, this page was really helpful.

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      Lynsey Harte 3 months ago from Glasgow

      Hi Meia thatnks for stopping by, I'm glad I could help! I was in the same situation, but I have now managed to use everything up and will not allow myself to have more than 4 bottles at a time- 1 cheap one for work, another light, fruity day fragrance and 2 evening fragrances. Means I should get through them all well before they turn bad!

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      Adrienne yee 3 weeks ago

      I have a perfume that I really like and I don't think it is sold anymore. I want to keep using it but it has changed color and has gone a bit milky. It smells fine though and I don't have type of allergic reaction to it. Is it fine to keep using it or should i toss it?

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      Lynsey Harte 3 weeks ago from Glasgow

      Hi Adrienne, if it still smells ok, and you are happy to use it, then I don't see why not!

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      Rumeur 12 days ago

      I have a bottle of perfume from sometime in the '80s!! I went to see "Phantom of the opera" with a friend & I think either in the theater or across the street was a gift shop all things Broadway. Beautiful bottle ( I'd never throw it out for that reason alone) but it actually still smells pretty good. Not quite as strong & long lasting. I don't think they make it anymore either. I'll be sad when it is all

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      Lynsey Harte 9 days ago from Glasgow

      Hi Rumeur! WOW!!! A bottle from the 80s! Im amazed it has lasted so long! I tend to use my perfume up within a year now, and don't allow myself to buy any more until the last one is done! Well done on keeping a bottle for so long!!

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      Ashley 7 days ago

      I noticed that on my perfume bottle it said 12 months. The perfume still smells good, even though I had it for about 4-5 years! Time really does go by quickly.

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      Lynsey Harte 5 days ago from Glasgow

      Hi Ashley, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Yes, the recommended shelf life for most cosmetic type products is 12 months. Some are 18 months. In my opinion, it is to make us feel that we have to replace them quicker than normal. Obviously, they are important in some products, such as makeup, but perfume can last for years!

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