The sense of smell is one of the most powerful human senses. Different scents are intimately connected with memories and experiences. One only has to get a whiff of cut grass or fresh cookies to trigger a specific thought. The earliest records of perfume come from ancient Egypt, where it was used in homes and temples alike. As time progressed, the use of fragrance blossomed across the rest of the world. Modern iterations of perfume include the famous Chanel No. 5 and Guerlain Shalimar. While these scents may seem timeless, remaining popular since their introduction in the early 1920s, perfume itself is not.
Does Perfume Ever Expire?
Perfume doesn't expire in the same sense that food does, but applying expired perfume may result in an unpleasant aroma, skin irritation, or, in extreme cases, an allergic reaction. From the time it's produced, a typical bottle of perfume has an average shelf life of three to five years. This shelf life may be longer if the bottle is unopened and stored properly. Shelf life can also fluctuate according to the quality of the product. Perfumes with a higher concentration of alcohol or water may disappear more quickly through evaporation, for instance.
One of the most obvious ways to detect a change in a perfume is the fragrance. If a perfume contains vegetable oils, it may become rancid over time. In contrast, essential oils, a popular ingredient in many commercial and natural fragrances, contain no fat, which helps the perfume last longer. As a perfume deteriorates, it may develop a smell like vinegar, or the concentration of the original scent may fade. The color of the perfume may also change, although this depends on the color of the original liquid, the color of the containing bottle, and how the bottle was stored.
Can I Prevent it From Expiring?
Perfume bottles from as far back as 1850 B.C. have been recovered, but all that remained were traces inside the containing jugs. Unopened bottles from the 1900s are prized by collectors, but not for the fragrance inside. All perfumes reach a point where they no longer look or smell like their old selves. But this can be delayed with proper care and storage.
One of the biggest enemies of perfume is heat, whether it's from direct sunlight or from a warm storage space. Heat breaks down the chemical structure of perfume, making it lose its fragrance more quickly. If the perfume is contained in a plastic bottle, heat may warp the container and leech plastic into the liquid. Similarly, sunlight should be avoided, as the heat and light can cook the perfume and change the color and consistency of the liquid. If a perfume has a colored bottle, it may be more resistant to light but should still be kept in a dark place.
If heat is the natural destroyer of perfume, it may seem like common sense to keep bottles somewhere cool, like a refrigerator. However, this solution can be just as damaging. Perfumes need a consistent temperature, and removing and replacing the bottle from the fridge will submit the liquid inside to temperature changes. A perfume or fragrance is happiest in a cool, protected area like a drawer or closet.
Perfume is frequently sold in a decorative container. Consumers may have a glass bottle that is more to their taste, but perfume should never be re-homed into a new container. Doing so exposes the liquid to air, which can both break down the composition of the perfume and accelerate the evaporation of any alcohol. Bacteria exposure is another risk for perfume, particularly those with removable tops. Perfume bottles with atomizer sprays and spray tops help protect the fragrance for a longer period of time.
But What if I Want to Save Some for a Special Day?
Perfume is meant to be used and enjoyed. If it's put away for too long, it may spoil or deteriorate, making it entirely inaccessible. Use perfume frequently, for special occasions as well as everyday ones. When you reach the end of a favorite bottle, mixing the last few drops into a fragrance-free lotion can help transfer a weaker version of the scent into a new medium. The good news is that there's an unending world of new, innovative scents to explore. Enjoy perfume for what it is, and embrace new fragrances as they come along.