Does Perfume Go Out Of Date If Unopened?

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I must confess to being guilty of accumulating a rather large perfume collection over the years. A few have been sitting on my dresser (both opened and unopened) for quite some time. Some research was necessary to find out if perfume can go out of date. Here is what I found.

Does perfume go out of date if unopened? Perfume can go out of date if unopened. The average shelf life of perfume if unopened is around 3 to 5 years from the time it was manufactured. This time can be longer depending on the quality and concentration of the perfume oil.

Does perfume go bad? All perfume will eventually go bad, whether opened or not. Heat, direct sunlight and oxygen exposure can cause both the smell and colour of your fragrance to alter over time. Perfume can last far longer if stored correctly.

Thankfully there are some simple things you can do right now to greatly increase the life of your perfume which we will also cover in this post.

How Long Does Perfume Last If Unopened?

But will your perfume still go off, even if you keep it unopened? If you think about it, shops and businesses are storing unopened perfume all the time, and perfume doesn’t carry an expiration date the way food does.

Some perfumes will last longer than others, whether opened or not. In most cases, perfumes will last between three and five years from the date of manufacture although some can survive for ten years or more while others will start to lose their potency after only a year or two.

Eau de parfum will last longer than eau de toilette as it is less concentrated. Perfumes with stronger base notes will also last a little longer as the lighter top notes evaporate more quickly, even when a bottle hasn’t been opened.

How Long Does Perfume Last If Opened?

Again, it all depends on the perfume and how it has been stored. Oxygen is the key source which causes the ingredients in perfume to change, so once opened, the shelf life of your perfume is dramatically reduced.

Trying out a bottle that hasn’t been used for some time might leave you with a nasty surprise when the lovely smell you remember comes out as badly changed after a few sprays. In some cases, the perfume might simply be weaker, but others begin to smell like alcohol or even curry which is a definite no!

If your perfume comes in a bottle with a stopper that does not create an air lock, you will find that it doesn’t last very long at all as it continues to evaporate. Even sprays can let oxygen back into the bottle that trigger reactions in the molecules.

In general terms, most perfumes will last at least one to two years after they have been opened and those with a higher concentration of top notes will deteriorate the most quickly. Essential oils won’t deteriorate in the same way vegetable oils can, therefore they will most likely last longer.

Why Does Perfume Go Out Of Date?

It is easy to understand why does perfume goes out of date when the bottle has been opened. Once air hits the perfume, it begins to evaporate and over time reactions occur meaning some of the molecules unbind and rebind with others, changing the smell quite dramatically.

How you store your perfume will affect how long the smell will last, and every perfume is different so they all have slightly different shelf lives.

What Is The Shelf Life Of Perfume?

What Is The Shelf Life Of Perfume?

The shelf life of perfume is the same if stored in the local boutique or at your home. As the average shelf life of perfume is around 3 to 5 years from the time it was produced, the most important thing is to store it correctly.

The quality and concentration of perfume can affect the shelf life. Eau de toilette is diluted with water or alcohol which and will therefore fade more quickly than eau de parfum. Citrus and floral fragrances tend to be more volatile and therefore evaporate more quickly than balsamic or woody perfumes.

One tip is don’t buy perfume from a store if its for sale at a discount as been opened as a tester. Also don’t choose the last bottle in the store if its the display bottle that has been sat either in full glare of the shop lights of even worse, displayed in the shop window.

Does Perfume Have An Expiry Date?

You won’t find a “Best Before” date on the front of your perfume in the way that you will on food. However, there is a way of calculating when your perfume is likely to expire by examining the bottle. One is to look at the PAO number.

PAO stands for “Period After Opening” and is symbolised by an open jar, usually at the bottom or the back of your bottle. Most cosmetics and personal products as well as perfume carry this symbol. The corresponding number refers to how many months the item is likely to last after opening.

PAO Symbol (Period After Opening)
PAO Symbol (Period After Opening)

The majority of perfumes I’ve checked tend to say 30 months, which is about two and a half years. Alternatively, there are websites where you can look up the batch number of your product which will tell you exactly when it was produced. It is not to say that your perfume needs to be thrown away after this time, but you need to check for signs of deterioration as its quality is no longer guaranteed.

Will Putting My Perfume In A Display Bottle Shorten Its Life?

Yes, definitely. While glamorous, matching display bottles can look amazing on your dresser, you are not doing your perfume any favours by decanting it from its original bottle.

Once perfume hits the air, it immediately begins to evaporate and pouring large quantities of perfume from one bottle to another means that almost all the perfume is exposed to oxygen. Even if you perform this action quickly, some molecules might have already bonded to oxygen and will continue to react in the new bottle. Rapidly moving the perfume will also make it evaporate more quickly.

If you use the same bottle for different perfumes, there is also a chance you could contaminate the fragrance with other, stronger scents or that traces of molecules from the previous perfume will make your new perfume undergo significant changes.

Most people keep display bottles out on the dresser which carries other risks. Sunlight and temperature changes will spoil your perfume and your display bottle might be exposed to both if it is a central focal point of your dressing table.

What Is The Best Way To Store Perfume?

What Is The Best Way To Store Perfume?

Firstly, the best way to store perfume is in its original bottle, away from sunlight, heat, or temperature changes. Keeping the perfume away from heat is the most important storage concern as warming up any solution causes chemical reactions to occur, often very quickly.

Cool locations are best for perfume but that is not to say it should be kept in the fridge as it won’t cope very well with changes in temperature as you take it out to use then return it again. A cool shelf in the corner of a dark room or in a cupboard is ideal.

The bathroom is not a good place to keep your perfume as humidity and temperature changes caused by using the shower can reach your perfume even when it is in a closed cabinet.

Ideally, you should keep your perfume in the box it originally arrived in. This might seem wrong as most perfume bottles can be works of art, but the box will provide darkness and protection that will make it last longer.

If you didn’t have a box or it is too damaged to use, you might find it useful to purchase or make a pretty box that will look attractive as well as keeping your perfume safe. You also need to be careful to replace the cap carefully each time you use your perfume, or you could be allowing more air into the container.

I put together a super helpful list of ’16 Tips To Make Your Perfume Last Longer’ that I think you will find helpful. The link is below:

Related Post: 16 Tips To Make Your Perfume Last Longer

Can You Use Out Of Date Perfume?

There is nothing to stop you from using perfume that has been opened longer than the recommended time. Indeed, you might find that it smells and looks exactly the same as it did the first time you used it. Some perfumes may change their smell slightly, though this doesn’t necessarily mean it has gone bad.

While it might not smell exactly like you wanted it to, it is possible that you won’t mind and might not even notice if the change is only slight. Some perfumes don’t smell bad, they just become less potent and won’t last like they used to.

However, many perfumes begin to smell unpleasant as they decompose, and some can smell of alcohol or vinegar which means you wouldn’t want to use them at all.

How Can I Tell If My Perfume Is Out Of Date?

You might be able to tell straight away if your perfume has gone bad, just by looking at the bottle. Often, a perfume that has begun to decompose will change its colour, the liquid usually becoming darker and looking more opaque.

It could begin to look milky or become thick and you might see some sediment on the bottom as different chemical reactions cause different responses. If your perfume has evaporated there will also be less in the bottle than before, although you might not notice this if you haven’t used the perfume for some time.

The most obvious indicator that your perfume is out of date is when it begins to smell differently. Eau de toilette will begin to smell like alcohol while eau de parfum can take on a more spicy, almost curry-like odour.

Is It Safe To Use Perfume That Is Out Of Date?

There is no reason not to use perfume that has been opened for longer than suggested by its PAO number or even more than the typical shelf life indication of three to five years and it should be perfectly safe. However, you will need to be careful and take more safety precautions.

Over time, the composition of your perfume will change and it is possible that it could cause an allergic reaction or irritate your skin and leave you with an itchy, unsightly rash. In extreme cases, an allergic reaction could be serious and could lead to swelling and even respiratory problems.

Such effects are rare and if you have been wearing your perfume uneventfully for a number of years it is highly unlikely that it will cause a very strong reaction therefore will largely be safe enough to wear even if out of date. It is best to keep in mind that your body could respond differently and to keep an eye out for any signs of irritation.

What Else Can You Do With Old Perfume?

What Else Can You Do With Old Perfume

One of the best reasons to keep old perfume is because the bottles just look so attractive. If your perfume has gone bad, there is no reason to stick to the storage rules and you can display pretty bottles out of their box and in the middle of your windowsill in gleaming sunlight for all the world to see.

You could even make a display out of an old perfume bottle by securing it inside a box frame or as centre stage on a decorative shelf. You could empty out the liquid and use the empty bottle to create a reed diffuser by adding a new fragrance or even a beautiful candle-stick holder if the neck of the bottle is the right size. Some shops even offer a discount if you return an empty perfume bottle, even if it is old.

Related: Can I Put Perfume In A Reed Diffuser?

If the perfume still smells appealing, just not what you want to wear on your skin, you could use it around the house such as on carpets or curtains. You could even give old potpourri a new lease of life. Soaking cotton wool balls to sit in your wardrobe or drawers can also make your clothes smell pleasant, and you could keep a few around the car to get rid of any unwanted odours.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to perfume, Carpe Diem is certainly the way forward and we should all avoid “saving” our best perfume for too long or we might find it spoils before we get around to using it.

Keeping an eye on the bottles in your collection and reminding yourself of when you opened them or labeling them on the packaging is a good way to make sure you always keep your perfume at its best.

Interesting Read: 10 Most Classic Perfumes Of All Time

The important thing to remember is that you store the perfume correctly, to give it the best chance of lasting beyond its recommended years, It is also worth checking what types of perfume you have and remembering that eau de toilette is likely to spoil more quickly so you might like to use these more often, especially if you have already had them for a while.

Look at what is in your perfume to help you understand how long it might last. For example, some of the gourmand perfumes currently on the market actually contain elements of foodstuffs which might mean they could potentially spoil more quickly.

Even if your perfume is older than the recommended ‘use by date’ you might find that it is still perfectly fine. A quick test for signs of decomposition might enough for you to determine whether or not you want to keep using it.

You might like to spray it on a small area at first, just in case it starts to irritate your skin, but once you are happy that it is ok to wear you could be able to enjoy your perfume for many more years after its potential expiration date has expired.

You may be also interested to know that I have put together a fantastic review page of the most elegant perfumes ranging from timeless classics to modern day sophistication that I think you will enjoy.


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Please take a moment to browse through my hand-picked collection of exquisite perfumes that I have fully reviewed.

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