What Is The Shelf Life Of Essential Oils And Carrier Oils?
For essential oils, the question of shelf life is fairly simple to answer, given a few variations. If you have a truly pure oil, it will generally last for between 1 and 5 years. Most pure essential oils do not have expiration dates printed on them, as how they are stored plays a very large part in how long they last, but some companies, especially those overseas will often put an expiration date on their bottles. This isn’t a hard a fast rule, like for milk, but gives you a general idea about how long you can expect your oil to be at their premium quality. Exact timetables for the shelf life of essential oils vary depending on which expert’s opinion you favor, but overall, you can expect your oils to last at least 2 years (with a few exceptions). I’ve had bottles of oils in my cupboards for over 2 years, and they are still good and work well. Because of the chemical composition of essential oils, they do not go rancid like other products, they simply slowly lose their medicinal properties. But this happens VERY slowly. You don’t need to worry about too many harmful effects from most “old” essential oils. If you are using an essential oil that is “past its prime,” the main problem is that the medicinal properties might be a bit weaker. However in certain essential oils, the chemical breakdown that happens over time causes changes to the chemical structures of the oils and they can suddenly produce negative side effects that you otherwise would not have experienced from fresh oils. For example, some of the chemical breakdown can cause skin irritation, when the risk with a fresh oil causing skin irritation was minimal, etc. There is rarely any reason to waste oils that are past their prime though, there are many ways to get great results from essential oils that are too old to use for medicinal purposes, so don’t jump the gun and throw away all your old oils.
There are a few exceptions to the rule that most essential oils will last at least 2-3 years when stored properly. Tea tree, pine and fir oils are said to have a shorter guaranteed time of potency due to certain chemicals present in the oil, but they are still good for 12-18 months minimum on average. Cold pressed citrus oils have the shortest shelf life of all essential oils due to a high proportion of components called terpenes, which are more prone to oxidation. Extra care should be taken to store them safely away from sources of heat. You can usually expect pure cold pressed citrus oils to remain in excellent condition for at least 9-12 months and longer when stored in a cool place away from the light. Some companies claim their oils are so exceptionally pure that there is no deterioration of quality no matter how many years the oils are stored. However this just simply isn’t the case. All substances deteriorate over time, and since the majority of the aromatherapy world, as well as scientists who analyze essential oils and their chemical structures both for fresh oils and older ones can observe these changes, I prefer to go with the majority opinion on this rather than one or two companies that have only been around only a short time. In a way these companies are “right” in that essential oils don’t go rancid or what most people consider “bad”, but their medicinal properties deteriorate, and since the purpose of this class is teaching about how essential oils can help your health, beauty, and mood, the chemical composition of the oils is of utmost importance, so improperly stored oils, or oils that are well past the generally suggested shelf life, they should be used in way other than direct contact with the skin, etc. But regardless of the debate on exact time lines, the deterioration of most essential oils is very slow.
Now we move on to carrier oils. Most carrier oils that are typically used for aromatherapy have a shelf life of about 9-15 months, depending upon the oil in question, and of course how it is stored. Carrier oils, unlike essential oils WILL go rancid. If you are wondering if an oil is okay to use, just smell it. If it smells fine, you are good to go. You won’t harm yourself by using a rancid oil, but it might offend your nose a bit. Some oils such as coconut and jojoba will keep for many, many years. This is one of the reasons these two oils are so popular in the aromatherapy world, and for use in natural skin care products.
And while we are on carrier oils, it is important to note that essential oils mixed with a carrier oil will have a much shorter shelf life than pure essential oils. Essential oils offer some preservative qualities, so an essential oil mixed with a carrier oil will most likely last longer than just a plain carrier oil, but will last a shorter period of time than the essential oil on it’s own. The main reason I mention this is so you will just keep a mental note if you are mixing essential oils with carrier oils to use for yourself. It is a good idea to mix up smaller batches that you can use up within 6 months to a year at the most, and leave the rest of your essential oils undiluted, in a dark place such as a box, in a cool place, rather than mixing a large amount of essential oil with a carrier oil, and having the mixture go rancid before you can use it all. And again, if you are wondering if an essential oil that has been mixed with a carrier oil is still good, just smell it. If it smells fine, for the most part that’s a good sign so go ahead and use it, unless you have any difficulty with smelling, and have trouble determining if an odor is off. Sometimes if essential oils are mixed with a carrier oil it can be more difficult to tell if it has gone bad due to the added odor of the essential oils.
The last thing to keep in mind is the actual age of the oils you are buying. Depending on where you get your oils, they could have been sitting on the shelves for months before you even purchase them, or with some small health food stores that don’t move merchandise quickly, they could have been on the shelves for years! It is a good idea to check for any dust that might have settled on the caps of the oil bottles. If caps and bottles are dusty, it might be best to do your buying another place, as that could be a sign the oils have been there for a long time. Or you can ask a store employee knows how long the oils have been on the shelf, or ask the store owner for an approximate date for how long they have been on the shelf. This is one of the reasons I don’t order huge quantities at once for my store. While it may be inconvenient to have to order every week during busy seasons, it is better than risking not being able to sell products for a long amount of time. So this is just something for you to keep in mind when shopping. If it is a small store, you might even ask how long the oils have been on the shelf, just to be safe. This is also something to keep in mind when shopping online, especially at discount vitamin shops, or Amazon. If you find essential oils, or carrier oils that are far cheaper than anywhere else, it may well be because they were able to purchase old stock from the company at a much lower rate, and you will be receiving old oils that are either rancid, or far past their prime. I have found stores on Amazon that are selling essential oils for UNDER wholesale prices. I only know this because I order directly from the companies and know their wholesale pricing. And you can be sure that anyone selling on Amazon or anywhere is not going to loose money to give you a good deal. So if they are selling products under wholesale costs, it is likely there is a good reason they are so cheap. So while it is not necessary to always pay high prices, and never get a good deal, please shop with wisdom, and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. This can be very confusing for people just starting out in the world of essential oils though, or most people who aren’t in the aromatherapy world on the business side of things. It may be hard to determine if it is just a good deal, or if it under manufacturer cost, or other red flags. Asking a respected aromatherapist or someone who is very knowledgable that you trust about pricing if you are concerned with a deal that may be too good, is always a wise choice. They may be able to help guide you by providing more information so you can determine if it is a great deal, or a probably risk.
How To Store Essential Oils And Carrier Oils
For the most part, ideal storage for essential oils and carrier oils is the same: in a dark cool place. Because steam is employed in distillation, essential oils and their medicinal properties aren’t really impacted by heat, except in the case of cold pressed citrus oils. I mention this just so you know that you can take most of your essential oils with you on the go. Even if the essential oils are left in the hot car sometimes, it will not harm them. I almost always have essential oils on me for bee stings and bites, or other issues that might come up, and it’s good to know that heat won’t hurt them. However, that being said, ideal long term storage for all essential oils and carrier oils is in a cool place, away from direct sunlight. This will greatly increase your shelf life, and assure the medicinal properties stay present in the oil longer. Another tip for essential oil storage is: don’t store pure essential oils in bottles with rubber dropper lids. The oils will eat through the rubber and ruin both your bottles and your oils. So always store pure essential oils in glass bottles, with hard plastic inserts and/or lids. The hard plastic euro droppers that come in most essential oil bottles when you open the lid, are made of a plastic that does not dissolve, so these are a much better choice for pure essential oils than any glass droppers with rubber tops. The glass droppers with rubber tops can be used effectively with essential oils that are already significantly diluted in a carrier oil. Keeping essential oils in a dark box in the refrigerator is ideal for extending their shelf life as long as possible. Of course you can take them out and bring them with you when necessary, but as a general practice, a dark box in a cool place such as the fridge is ideal. For me, the oils I know I will use quickly, just sit in a plastic container on a shelf in my room out of direct light. We also live in northern Idaho, so the climate is much milder here than many places. A few of the very expensive oils that I use far less I keep in a box in my refrigerator, but the bulk of my oils are just kept in a cool dim place. I make a lot of blends, creams, salves, muscle rubs etc., with essential oils that are sold at my store and online, so I use up essential oils much, much faster than the average person would.
One last tip: if you buy large quantities of carrier oils at one time, a good way to store them and increase their shelf life is by freezing them. Carrier oils will last MUCH longer if stored this way, and you can save money by buying in bulk, if you have some freezer space to spare. If you don’t exactly haven a lot of extra freezer room you want to use up with your big bottles of carrier oils, other great idea is splitting carrier oils if you can get a group of friends who are also interested in aromatherapy. This way you can buy in bulk, and split them up amongst yourselves and save a lot of money!
What Are The Best And Worst Essential Oils To Start Out With
Here I am going to address the safest essential oils to start out with as a beginner. The ones that you aren’t likely to do too much harm with if you actually use them improperly. This will leave you more freedom to experiment and play around without worrying about harming yourself or your family. And I am also going to discuss the most potentially dangerous oils, so you are aware of those as well.
The Best Essential Oils:
One standard practice I want to mention before we get started is with regard to using an essential oil on the skin. When using an oil for the first time on your skin, or anyone else’s skin, whether you are using it neat or diluting it, always test a small amount on a patch of skin before applying it to a large area. What might be fine for one person’s skin might cause some irritation or discomfort on someone else’s. Always test a small area the first time you use an essential oil to see how your skin reacts.
Always remember to dilute! Some of these oils I mention you can use them internally. Please remember the need to use oils internally are few and far between. Often times external applications are much safer an much more effective than internal use. I am not opposed to some internal use, but please only do so under the care of an experienced aromatherapist, or if you yourself have extensive knowledge of each plant, possible interactions, and side effects. Also, this is a beginner introductory class, and I cannot possibly cover all the ins and outs of using each oil. Please educate yourself on the specifics of each oil as you begin to use them at home!
In my opinion, the best essential oils for beginners are:
This is a fantastic oil for bee stings and burns, acts as an anti-histamine, is relaxing, soothing, and can be safely used on children. It is great for insomnia, pain relief, rashes, acne, and the list goes on and on. Lavender oil is the first oil I always recommend people try out. It is so versatile, is quite safe, and would be hard to harm yourself with, and is something that can be used by the whole family.
Is a great oil for cleaning, adding to your washing machine to help get rid of odors in laundry, great for diffusing to help purify the air, and can be used in VERY small quantities internally like in baking, or cooking. (1 drop equals 1 tsp of lemon flavoring) Lemon oil is considered a photo toxic oil, and should not be applied to skin that is going to be exposed to the sun within 12 hours of the oil being applied. Just a drop or two of lemon will take sticky residue from old bumper stickers, or duct tape right off as well, and comes in handy as a stain remover too! The list goes on. Lemon is one of the very affordable oils that has a delightful array of uses and a bright uplifting scent that can brighten anyone’s day.
Fantastic for acne, burns, disinfecting, gentle enough to use (dilute) on children, great for removing odors, great for healing rashes, and skin infections, disinfecting etc.
Great for headaches, colds, pain, digestive issues. Primarily used externally. Peppermint is another oil that has many applications, is reasonably priced, and is an oil I’m rarely caught without. Please do not use peppermint on young children, or diffuse around young children.
Great for removing odors, improving moods, mental clarity, as a de-greaser and so much more!
This oil has many of the same properties as orange, but also has some great properties of it’s own. It is often recommended for safe use for smaller children, where many other oils are off limits.
Both Roman and German chamomile can be a great and very safe addition to your aromatherapy stash. Roman is my personal favorite, soothing, relaxing, amazing fro the skin for such things as diaper rashes, helps reduce inflammation which can be helpful for many things including acne. Anxiety, pain, eczema, psoriasis, and so many more things can be soothed by chamomile. The drawback is it is quite an expensive oil. However, it is extremely, extremely concentrated and takes and extremely small amount to get the job done. Chamomile does not have a lot of essential oil in the flowers, and thus it takes a HUGE amount of plant material to make an oz of essential oil, as opposed to other plants that yield a far greater amount of oil for the same amount of plant mater. Some people can be allergic to chamomile, if you are allergic to the plant, or some the plants relatives, this may be an oil that you need to avoid. But those who have any issues are pretty few and far between
This is another oil that is a bit on the spendy side, although not as expensive as chamomile. Frankincense has a host of amazing properties is excellent for maturing skin, is said to improve the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, and is also fantastic for acne, and many many other skin conditions. It is also an excellent oil for aiding in pain control, and the list goes on. Frankincense and Lavender are two of the most versatile oils in my opinion and are a great addition to your stash. Because of the cost, often Frankincense and Chamomile are oils people don’t purchase right away, but save up for and add to their collection later on. For that reason, I used to exclude them from my best oils for beginners list, but they are such amazing oils, that are quite safe, I felt I had to add it in. They are well worth the money in my opinion , but I understand cost will prevent most beginner from grabbing them right away, but hopefully this is a seed planted in the back of your mind, and some day you will add them to your collection. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.
For today we are not going to discuss all the specific uses for each of these oils. We will be covering some very fun uses for all of these oils in another lesson!
The Most Dangerous Essential Oils
I am including a “most dangerous” list here, just so you are aware of the most toxic oils that are readily available out there. There is a much larger list of highly toxic essential oils, but most of them are very hard if not impossible to find in the world of aromatherapy, so I’m not covering those, but just focusing on the ones you are most likely to run across, or find recommended in blend recipes. While some of these oils are still safe when used correctly topically, they are ALL extremely toxic when taken internally and can be fatal. These oils are quite the exception in the world of essential oils. Most oils are relatively safe, but it is good to use extra caution if you purchase these oils, especially if you have children. Be sure to have childproof lids on any of these oils, and always store them out of the reach of children or animals.
*The active ingredient in wintergreen oil is methyl salicylate (98%), and although it has been used in ointments for rheumatism and other such complaints, the topical application of this oil, even in much diluted blends, can be a skin irritant – especially to those sensitive to aspirin (salicylate). Wintergreen oil is also very poisonous. Also included under wintergreen is birch. The chemical composition between wintergreen and birch is so similar to wintergreen I have put them together. For those who are allergic to aspirin, wintergreen and birch should be avoided, or at the least used with caution. Also, anyone on blood thinners should avoid these oils, as they have blood thinning properties and can increase the risk of bleeding. Some aromatherapists recently are putting both wintergreen and birch on the “black list” of essential oils that should NEVER be used under ANY circumstances, unless you are under professional care. This is a fairly recent idea going around, and not one that I agree with personally. These oils deserve respect, and wise usage, but used properly, they can add wonderful properties and greatly benefit the user. Just like aspirin could be harmful or used wrongly, so can these oils, but in my opinion that doesn’t warrant the people out there who are trying to paint it as a poison that could kill you in your tracks is you accidentally use a drop or two too many. That is just not the case. But none the less, it warrants a place on the caution list, and should be well studied, and carefully used. If in doubt, consult a qualified aromatherapist, or avoid using it.
*Although this herb has had a long use for various complaints including menstrual problems and as a stimulant, the oil is toxic and an abortifacient, and can even in small quantities cause acute liver and lung damage.
*Prussic acid – also known as cyanide, is the main constituent of bitter almond oil, and even small amounts can be lethal.
*This herb has been used for rheumatic pains and gout, but the oil is high in safrole (80 – 90%), which is banned by the FDA since it is carcinogenic (cancer causing), and it can be lethally toxic as well – even in small amounts.
There are other oils that are dangerous, poisonous, or bear extra caution and should not be used except by professionals that have been highly trained, but these are some of the oils you are the most likely to come across, and some of the most potentially dangerous oils, that often surprise people as the plants they come from can be quite mild and seem very safe. Always remember that just because a plant is safe, and almost impossible to harm yourself with, that has very little bearing on whether the essential oil from the same plant is safe or very toxic. And of course the reverse works also. Just because an essential oil is toxic, often does not carry over to the plant at all. I’ve had many ladies have a great fear of using a particular fresh or dried herb because they heard the essential oil could be very dangerous. And often, the herb in it’s whole form bears very little possibility for harm.
And that’s all for today’s lesson see you all next week!
Essential Oils Education
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