What is a fragrance’s shelf life? How to know when it’s time to throw it out

How Long Does Perfume Last?

The telltale signs that a fragrance is past its use-by date

Beauty Crew Contributing Editor / April 20 2020

Have you ever been head over heels for a fragrance but go to spritz it one day and suddenly you’re just not a fan? Sure, your perfume taste may have changed, or maybe the bottle of fragrance has expired. 

We often talk about how long a fragrance lasts, but what we’re typically talking about is how long its notes will linger on your skin through the day, not the shelf-life of the fragrance. How long a bottle of fragrance will last is not something we think about much, but it should be. Because just like all the other products in your beauty kit, there comes a time when your fragrance will go bad and you’ll need to throw it out.

Here’s the tricky part: Unlike other beauty products which have a little symbol on the packaging that outlines the recommended shelf life of the item, fragrances don’t come with the same handy hint. So we asked Erica Moore, Fragrance Evaluator for Michael Edwards Fragrances of the World, for her expert advice on the telltale signs of an expired fragrance, how to store fragrances correctly, and when to throw your perfume out.

How long does perfume last?

The good news is a fragrance’s shelf life is pretty lengthy: up to five years once opened and if you store it correctly. But that’s a big ‘if’.

“The majority of fragrances only have a shelf life of about three to five years. Depending on the notes used, the timeline can vary,” says Moore.

“Several factors will determine the average shelf life of a fragrance – most significantly the way it is stored and the composition. In general terms, if stored correctly, you can get up to five years of life out of a fragrance. That said, I have a 30-year-old fragrance which smells relatively unchanged.”

Rollerball fragrances have particularly short shelf lives because they are constantly exposed to environmental extremes inside our handbags.

Why do some fragrances last longer than others?

“Certain raw materials are more volatile, and may mean a shorter shelf life,” says Moore. Natural fragrances won’t last as long because they are free from preservatives. Citrus, floral and green notes are fast-evaporating so their shelf life is shorter than heady fragrances like chypre, oriental, woody and oud concoctions.

Does perfume expire?

If you’ve ever wondered does perfume go off, the answer is yes. “Once the fragrance is exposed to air, it will start to deteriorate,” explains Moore. But determining if your fragrance has expired isn’t exactly easy. “If it is a fragrance you wear, you will be able to detect subtle changes,” says Moore. “Otherwise it can be difficult … certain raw materials may discolour with age, so a particularly dark fragrance may be an indicator of age. It may also be an indicator of ingredients so this shouldn’t be relied on as a reliable method without smelling, to assess freshness.”

How to check if your perfume is past its use-by date

If you’ve had your fragrance for a few years but can’t tell whether or not its scent has changed over time, the best way to check is to go into a store and test a fresh bottle of your same spritz. What colour is the fragrance inside the new bottle? Does it smell the same on your skin as the one you have at home?

How can perfume last longer?

“Storage is key,” says Moore. You need to keep bottles “Away from sunlight (perfume enemy number one) and extreme temperatures,” she adds. Many of us keep our fragrance in our bathroom, where it’s easy to access and spritz at the end of our makeup routine. But all that steam and heat is speeding up your fragrance’s expiration.

“Some people like to store fragrance in the fridge, but I’m of the belief that moisture through condensation or otherwise doesn’t help,” adds Moore. “My preference is in a built-in robe or inside a drawer.”

Always putting the cap back on your fragrance will help limit its exposure to air, which can impact the scent and colour of your perfume over time.

So, does all this mean you should become a one-at-a-time fragrance kinda gal?

Not exactly. We are big believers in a fragrance wardrobe (wearing the same perfume day in and day out gets boring - matching your scent to your mood or the occasion is what wearing a fragrance is all about!), you just need to make sure you take good care of your perfumes. And no more showing them off on your vanity.

“If you find a fragrance you like, don’t be afraid to stock up and store sensibly. With so many fragrances coming onto the market each year, a greater risk to your favourite fragrance is possibly discontinuation, not deterioration,” advises Moore.

What happens if you use a perfume past its expiry date?

The other thing worth noting is that there are no major side effects of using an out-of-date fragrance. “Fragrance ingredients are very carefully monitored by IFRA, and the materials approved don’t become ‘risky’ with age. The very worst is that the odour profile will change, and you may get some discolouration,” says Moore. If you have sensitive skin, it’s possible your expired spritz may irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction, so stop using it immediately if you have any adverse reactions.

Sill trying to figure out the difference between an eau de toilette and an eau de parfum? This guide will straighten you out.

Main image credit: Getty

Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.