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What to Do With Expired Perfume- a Guide

We already know what to do with expired medicine and milk. We even know why there is an expiration date on bottled water. We also know about some surprising household items that can expire and how long we can keep our food after its expiration date. But what about our toiletries? Do you throw away your creams and lotions once they are expired? Do you throw away your cosmetics and perfume too? But wait, can perfume even go bad at all?


Can perfume go bad?

expired perfume - empty bottles blue background

In one word, the answer is yes. Perfume can go bad in a process called oxidation. While some perfumes will expire in just a year, others can last for up to a decade. But if you keep a bottle unopened, still with the manufacturer's seal, in a dark place, it may well last an eternity.

Factors that may affect the longevity of perfume are light exposure, temperature, ingredient quality, and bottle and pump quality. Perfumer Sarah McCartney says, “There are three main reasons why perfume goes bad: light, heat, and air.” And check this out, she says she recently opened a century-old perfume bottle by Guerlain, which was sealed airtight with a glass stopper, and it was still good! Click here to read all about the 10 oldest perfumes you can still purchase today.

As noted above, perfume expires when it comes in contact with oxygen. The more you use your perfume, the more air is in the bottle, and that’s why you shouldn’t save perfume for special occasions that never come. Just use it up because a half-filled bottle will deteriorate quicker than a brand new one. But don’t feel like there’s a ticker on your bottle. The average shelf life of perfume is 2-3 years.

Another tip is to keep your perfume bottles in your wardrobe. It may be tempting to present your perfume on a shelf or in your bathroom, as mini perfume bottles are considered a thing of beauty, but exposure to humidity and light on a daily basis will eventually cause the perfume to expire quicker than it would stored in a cool, dry, dark place.

What happens to perfume when it expires?

expired perfume - woman smelling a perfume

An expired perfume may lose the potency and strength of its scent, the depth of the different layers of fragrance notes, and some of its complexity. It can also smell like vinegar or metal. Fragrances with synthetic ingredients will have a longer shelf life than fragrances that are formulated with more natural ingredients. But today, most fragrances are synthetic, meaning the ingredients are either man-made or synthesized in a lab from chemicals that duplicate natural ingredients.

What to do with expired perfume?

Now, we know that some expiration dates can be taken as more of a guideline, tip, or advice rather than a limit or a rule set in stone. Let’s see if that is the case with perfumes.

There is no health hazard in wearing a perfume that has gone bad. It may smell unappealing, and it may even stain your clothes, but that’s where the negative impact ends. In fact, some perfumers say that, in most cases, the odd smell will disappear a few minutes after you sprayed the perfume on, leaving you with what’s called the base or middle tones of the fragrance. If you’re concerned about possible skin irritation, you can spray the perfume on your clothes rather than your bare skin. 

How to tell if a perfume has gone bad?

expired perfume - yellowing perfumes
  • Some scents, like citrus and floral ones, will go bad quicker than others, like musk, vanilla, and other spicy or woody tones.
  • Pay attention to discoloration. Expired perfume will likely darken in color.
  • If you’re not sure, you can spray your perfume on a white piece of paper to test its color and scent. Spray a few times because it may be just the fragrance in the pump tube that has gone bad.
  • Perfumes in aluminum bottles will keep longer than perfumes and glass bottles.

Sources: 1, 2

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