The bewildered look on someone’s face when you tell them perfume goes bad is one of those strange moments in a person’s life where they realize a few things:
1) Most people don’t realize fragrances expire.
2) Most people don’t know how to prolong or preserve their fragrances.
3) Most people just don’t really care that much, nor do they own so much that they should.
Here’s some food for thought, perfumes and fragrances in general have three enemies. They are, light, heat, and air. Let’s do a rundown of how these three components can work against your perfumes.
Light: Probably one of the biggest culprits that cause perfumes to go bad is light. Particularly sunlight. Most people with a bottle of perfume make the ultimate, but very common, mistake. They display the bottle on their vanity, or tabletop, and allow them to be exposed to the sun. This causes some of the more volatile components in perfumes to break down, or alter. Eventually, the fragrance will change on you and oftentimes, this is not for the better.
Now, can you really blame anybody for doing this? Some perfume bottles are downright beautiful and to not display them seems like a shame. But did you know that direct contact to sunlight can start deteriorating a perfume within a manner of hours? So while you’ve got a beautiful bottle on your vanity, that stuff inside of it isn’t doing so well.
Heat: Though heat is a big one, you shouldn’t allow your perfumes to get so cold it freezes either. Despite the logic that if heat is bad for fragrances then cold should be better. The truth is, your perfumes do best in cool temperatures and neither being too hot or too cold is good for it. One of the worst places people keep their fragrances (aside from the vanity) is in the bathroom.
The bathroom has a fluctuating temperature and humidity level. And if you’re like the average person you bathe or shower once a day. This means those perfumes in your bathroom are being exposed to rapid change in environmental temperature on a regular basis. Every time you take a shower or draw a bath, you are probably making the environment in that little room hotter and more humid. Heat can also deteriorate your fragrances like sunlight.
Air: Most people who own bottles of perfumes probably own the spray bottle type with a sprayer nozzle to distribute the scent. These types of bottles do a good job at reducing air exposure which can lead to perfume deterioration. However, if you own parfum extraits, oil pased perfumes, or splash bottles, you’re in a doozy of a time.
It is impossible to prevent air from contacting your perfume if you own a perfume bottle that requires you to open it. In addition, splash bottles tend to be more susceptible to in-bottle evaporation. Some of these types of perfumes hold up better than others. Older perfumes such as classic Carons may last for decades before losing their scent whereas a newer splash form perfume like Chanel Chance probably won’t have those kinds of–heh–chances.
Now that you know about the three major players leading to perfume deterioration, how do you know when your fragrances are going to expire? You don’t. And here’s the other kicker, you may never be able to find out because perfumes age according to how they were stored and what their chemical or natural compositions are.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s take Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab perfume oils as an example. These are 5ml bottles of fragrance oils that are composed from a wide variety of different scents and compositions. All scents from BPAL will eventually age and change as they age. Some age for the better (Snake Oil), others go bad (Violet Ray). The beauty of the fragrance depends entirely on the individual but most people would probably agree that a dense vanilla-like fragrance from aged Snake Oil is more desirable than a bottle of flat, scentless Violet Ray.
It is important to keep in mind and note the top notes and compositions of fragrances because you can sometimes tell which notes will go first. Citrus notes are especially vulnerable to aging. Most of these are used as top notes and top notes are extremely delicate. Generally, the stuff you get at the bottom in the base note category should be more robust but with modern perfumery, it is still hard to tell what will and will not last. Or how long your fragrance is going to stay the same one you bought and love.
So without knowing a specific use by date, your best bet to perfume use is to ensure that you store your fragrances appropriately.
1) Get them out of the light. I know how awesome some of those bottles look but leaving them out in the open is deteriorating the juice inside. One of the most convenient containers for a bottle of perfume is the original box it came in. The box can provide the fragrance an extra layer of protection against the sun. For best results, keep your perfumes in a dark place. Put them in your closet, in a drawer, a dresser, under the bed. Whatever’s available and dark. I store my fragrances in their original boxes in a closet.
2) If you must display, use up the juice inside first. I k now some people like to collect perfume bottles because they look nice and want to display them. If you want to display your bottles of perfume, decant your scents into another bottle first. This way you have a bottle to display and don’t have to worry about the stuff inside going bad. If you couldn’t care less about the stuff inside the bottle and just want a full looking bottle of perfume to display then have a blast, I suppose.
3) Reduce exposure to heat. I know it’s hard to keep perfumes in a steady, even and cool environment. Especially if you’re like me and your home doesn’t have air conditioning. For the average fragrance lover who uses their collection on a regular basis, storage at room temperature will do fine. Some hard core fragrance collectors who own rare perfumes or have hundreds of bottles they don’t use regularly have refrigerators that are specifically set to preserve their fragrances. The ideal temperature for fragrances seems to be around12-14 degrees C with citrus heavy fragrances preferring lower temperatures around 4 degrees C. [Source]
4) Avoid freezing and the cold. Just like heat, cold can also damage your perfumes. If you were thinking about putting them in your regular refrigerator or even in the freezer, you can start drawing up plan B. The temperature for a regular refrigerator is too cold for most fragrances. The freezer option shouldn’t even be considered.
5) Get them out of the bathroom and off your vanity. I know the vanity is a great place for display. I know the bathroom is really convenient, but they aren’t doing your perfumes any good.
6) If you don’t plan on using the fragrance regularly or feel that you may take a while to completely use everything in the bottle, opt for a spray bottle (where possible) instead to avoid the air issue. If you do happen to own splash bottles and are concerned about preservation, start using up those fragrances or get yourself a fragrance fridge. You may never win the war against air with your splash bottles but you can at least minimize the impact by avoiding light and heat.
So how long can you keep perfumes if you store them properly? Years and years. Decades. Maybe even centuries. Some fragrances are incredibly robust as there are bottles of Chanel No.5 from the 30s and 40s that still smell the same as they did all those years ago. Likewise there are bottles of classic Carons and Guerlains that smell just as wonderful now as they did when they were first made. Heck, there was that perfume residue discovered in a bottle people think belonged to Hatshepsut that could still be analyzed and probably recomposed.
Don’t underestimate perfume’s ability to stick around, but don’t overestimate it either. Take the necessary precautions to ensure your fragrances last and you can enjoy them for many years.
In short, the best place to keep your perfumes is in a cool, dark place.