When it comes to the expiry dates of cosmetics, most items in your beauty bag will clearly state how long it is before they need to be tossed. For example, mascaras will stay tip top until roughly the six-month mark, eyeliners for 12 months, and foundations for up to two years. But what about your fragrances? Can perfume go bad? How long does perfume last unopened? Join us as we shed light on these FAQs and help you enjoy your signature scent for longer!
Does perfume go bad?
In short, yes. But not in the way that fresh food traditionally spoils (don’t worry, you won’t have a curdled or mouldy perfume on your hands). All perfumes will gradually deteriorate over time, and this expiration window can largely depend on the chemical composition of the scent as well as how it is stored and looked after.
As a general rule of thumb, most fragrances can last around three to five years before it’s time to retire. You might also be wondering ‘how long does perfume last unopened?’ well, this varies from fragrance to fragrance, but it is generally considered to last a little longer than the three-to-five-year estimation for opened perfumes, again depending on its storage conditions and ingredient line-up.
What makes a perfume go off?
- Sunlight – A.K.A. a fragrance’s sworn enemy! Exposure to direct sunlight breaks down the chemical structure of your perfume, causing it to oxidise and lose potency.
- Extreme temperature fluctuations – the transition from high to low temperatures can cause a fragrance to degrade quicker. This is especially common for perfumes kept in the bathroom where the levels of humidity can get very high at times.
- Exposure to oxygen – every time you spritz a perfume it allows oxygen into the bottle, which eventually alters the molecules of the fragrance through oxidation.
- Exposure to contaminants – dirt or dust entering the fragrance bottle can cause the composition to dull over time.
- Shaking the bottle – agitating a fragrance creates bubbles and starts the oxidation process.
How can I tell if my fragrance has gone bad?
There’s no super-scientific test to perform to check if your perfume has gone off, just a few simple checks:
- Smell it – does the fragrance smell different to when you first bought it? If the scent has weakened or developed a vinegary/metallic tinge, then it’s time to say goodbye to your scent.
- Check the colour – has it changed? Most perfumes that are starting to break down will become darker and more opaque as time goes on.
- Notice the volume – has the amount of perfume in the bottle decreased without you using it? This could be a sign that your perfume is evaporating, which is something that scents with large alcohol concentrations tend to do as they expire.
- Check the ingredients – perfumes with fresh top notes like citrus and florals tend to be more volatile and degrade quicker than perfumes with heavier notes such as wood, amber, oud or chypre.
- Check the expiry date – often, manufacturers will print an expiry date on the packaging, usually on the box or the bottom of the bottle. Look out for the batch code or a PAO (period after opening) number.
- Watch out for any skin reactions – If your skin starts to turn red and irritated after spritzing, this is a tell-tale sign that your perfume is past its best. If you’re not sure, conduct a patch test on a patch of skin and if in 24 hours you’ve had no reaction then it shouldn’t irritate anywhere else.
How to preserve your perfume
Although every fragrance will eventually expire, there are a few tried and tested tricks to help you increase your signature scent’s lifespan.
- Store your perfume in a cool, dark place within a room with stable conditions – for example, a wardrobe or a drawer in your bedroom. Avoid storing in any place with excess moisture and humidity (like the bathroom).
- Seal the bottle tightly/put the cap back on immediately after use to prevent oxygen or contaminants from entering the bottle.
- Avoid shaking the perfume bottle.
- Avoid decanting the perfume into a more decorative bottle as this introduces oxygen into the composition and increases the rate at which it will expire.
- As well as storing your perfume in its original bottle, it’s advised to also keep it in the cardboard box it came with to provide a shield against UV rays.
Learn more about how to keep your fragrance fresher for longer by checking out our article: how to properly wear and store perfumes.
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About Gabrielle Richens
Gabrielle is a skincare pro turned beauty copywriter. She’s been writing and creating beauty content for over five years but has been in and around the world of beauty for most of her life. When she’s not researching the latest skincare ingredients you’ll find her dishing out beauty tips on Instagram. Her current perfume obsession? Rose Naturelle by Chloé.