Growing up, I always loved admiring (read: lusting over and wishing I was old enough to own) my grandmother’s perfume collection. The architecture of the old bottles and how they all smelled slightly different, but just like her—a shrine to glamor and what it would be like to adorn my own dresser with ones that looked just like that one day. Now that I’m older, I’ve found my go to’s for every season, have a little bowl filled with department store samples, and love my spritz, spritz, shimmy through routine as I walk out the door. That said, with graduation gifts, birthday presents, and bottles that I randomly found on sale somewhere and impulse bought (yes, we all do it), I have accumulated quite the collection of less glamorous bottles that live in the cupboard under my bathroom sink that have been there for long enough for me not to remember their origin and leave me wondering—Does perfume expire?
How long does it take for a perfume to expire?
According to Linda G. Levy, the president of The Fragrance Foundation, “the lifespan of a fine fragrance is dependent on 3 factors: ingredients, storage, and when it was unsealed for use. There is no precise regulation, but generally a fine fragrance may last between 1 and 3 years if opened and stored properly.” That said, it is important to keep in mind that every fragrance is different and the longevity depends on the type of ingredients and raw materials in the formula, as well as the conditions in which it is placed in terms of light, temperature, humidity, and position.
Fragrances that contain citruses are often the most volatile, as they tend to oxidize quicker and are more susceptible to the effects of heat. Fragrances with woody or amber-based notes are less volatile. Other more fruity or floral scents also have a tendency to lose strength as they age. The best way to maintain your fragrances is to store them in indirect sunlight and areas not exposed to high temperatures. Air and light are the primary factors that break down fragrance ingredients, so the amount of air in the bottle impacts the fragrance itself. Refrigeration can also help preserve its integrity and shelf life.
How do you know if your perfume has expired?
Like wine, fragrances do evolve over time, so while they may not smell exactly the same after extended periods of time, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have “expired.” In terms of signs to look for to figure out when it may be time to restock your favorite scent, it’s important to pay attention to the smell and coloration. According to Levy, “If your fragrance is expired, it may have a weaker top note, meaning that it may not smell the same or as ‘sparkling’ as when you first purchased it. It could also have an astringent, sour, burnt, or metallic scent, if you have had it for too long, as the top notes oxidize.”
Another sign would be when the liquid itself becomes yellow, discolored, or the color fades. That said, color change does not always mean it affects the scent. Certain raw materials within fragrance oils, that start out dark, actually loose some of their color over time. Sunlight, or even strong indoor lightning, can fade some oils and decrease the overall color of the perfume, so keeping the sample in a dark place will help.
Another sign to look for is when a fragrance turns a darker, brown color. This is a trait attributed mainly to one of the more common materials in fine fragrance, vanillin. Although many raw materials within fragrance oils can turn a pale yellow color, a darker brown is usually indicative of a vanilla type fragrance. Refrigeration can help delay this discoloration.
Is it bad to use expired perfume?
From a health and safety standpoint, there is no real risk to using a spritz of old perfume. Since fragrances contain alcohol, there aren’t microbial consequences. What is really comes down to is the scent and whether you still like it as it changes over time.
Here are 6 new scents to check out this spring
1. Byredo Mixed Emotions, $190
Drawing on the brand’s philosophy of translating thoughts and memories into scents, this fragrance is crafted to be representative of our current, collective state of mind. The comforting notes of maté and the sharp sweetness of cassis juxtapose well with the woody undertones, making it a great winter-to-summer, transitional scent.
Shop now: Byredo Mixed Emotions, $190
Alexa, cue Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles. This warm weather fragrance is a reimagined interpretation of the common garden strawberry. The blend of fresh and bright bergamot and pink pepper with warm musk and jasmine come together for a light and gender neutral everyday scent that’s not too sweet.
Shop now: Malin+Goetz Strawberry Eau de Parfum, $95
3. Tom Ford Costa Azzurra, $134
Tom Ford fragrances are the epitome of luxury. This warm scent is the perfect mix of crisp citrus and heavier, oak undertones. The timelessly beautiful bottle is just an added bonus to sneak into all of your dresser-mirror selfies!
Shop now: Tom Ford Costa Azzurra, $134
4. Jo Malone Scarlet Poppy, $195
Though it may be the bright, red bottle that catches the eye, the scent is definitely what will keep you hooked. Inspired by the great scarlet poppy, this mix of floral notes is velvety, opulent, and warm.
Shop now: Jo Malone Scarlet Poppy, $195
5. Bulgari Dolce Estasi Eau de Parfum, $230
Seeing as scent and memory are inextricably connected, let this candy-shaped bottle transport you back to your childhood. The creamy mix of sweetness, citrus, and musk is sophisticated, while still being homey and comforting.
Shop now: Bulgari Dolce Estasi Eau de Parfum, $230
Craving the ocean breeze? With salty jasmine from India, green lemon from Rodrigues, and notes of vanilla from Madagascar, this unisex fragrance is a full island holiday in a small package.
Shop now: Atelier Cologne Lemon Island Cologne Absolue, $142
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