Do perfumes expire? Signs your scent may have gone off

A fragrance experts tells us everything you need to know about perfume expiring. How to spot it, prevent it and what notes to keep an eye on

do perfumes expire
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Do perfumes expire? Can scent go off? If you’ve accumulated a collection of fragrances, you might be wondering if your precious (and often pricey) bottles have a shelf life. 

There is nothing worse than reaching for your favourite fragrance to find the scent has completely changed and considering how much we spend on perfume, most people are hesitant to chuck them out. But, not only do fragrances differ in which perfume lasts longest on the skin, they can also differ in expiration date. 

To get all the answers to the question do perfumes expire and find out more about how to prolong their lifespan, we asked fragrance expert at The Perfume Shop, Rebecca Wilkin for her insight. 

Do perfumes expire? An expert guide

Perfume bottle spraying

(Image credit: Getty)

Once you’ve opened a bottle of perfume, unfortunately it will expire at some point. “Perfume does have a shelf life, but just how long that is will depend on a number of factors,” says Rebecca. 

“Fragrances don’t have a best before date and could last anything between a year and 10 years, but factors such as the quality of ingredients and how you store it will contribute to how long it lasts.”

In other words, if your perfume expiring is a concern, where you keep your fragrance is hugely important. ”On average, you should expect a new perfume to last between three and five years before you start to notice changes to the scent,” explains Rebecca. “Though again, it depends on how well you look after it. Factors like heat and direct sunlight can cause ingredients to become unstable and go off.”

How to spot an expired perfume

If you're concerned that an old favourite scent just isn't quite right, there are a few ways you can tell if your perfume has perished simply by using your senses. “Keep an eye out for changes in colour and trust your nose,” says Rebecca. “A favourite fragrance will be familiar to you; if you start to notice it doesn’t quite smell how it used to, its days might be numbered.”

When a bottle of perfume is opened, it becomes exposed to oxygen. This oxygen can actually alter the molecules of perfume and cause it to oxidise—just like some foundations can turn orange after you’ve applied them! If you’ve noticed the scent changing or the liquid inside turning a strange colour—typically more orange than usual—this could be an indication something’s wrong. Price and quality can be a factor, but even luxury buys like the best Jo Malone fragrances can start to go iffy if left in the sun for long periods of time.

And some notes are actually more susceptible to going off than others. Rebecca explains, “Fragrances with heavier notes do tend to last longer, such as chypre fragrances with base notes like patchouli, oud or amber. Lighter notes like delicate florals, green scents or citrusy notes can be more volatile and may not last as long.” 

So, if your favourites include green, fresh or flower fragrances, you may want to give them a sniff test before spraying liberally. 

How to extend the life of your perfume

Perfume bottle with flowers on peach background

(Image credit: Getty)

Now we've learned that the answer to the question do perfumes expire is an unequivocal yes, it's worth learning how to prolong the life of your favorite scent too. Firstly, keep your fragrances away from direct sunlight and heat. “We would always recommend storing your perfumes in a room with a stable temperature, as fluctuations in heat can quickly start to affect the ingredients,” suggests Rebecca. “Equally important, ensure they are stored away from direct sunlight, so if all your perfumes are displayed on your dresser under your window, you might want to have a rethink if you want them to last!”

The good news is that fragrances are lasting longer than ever before thanks to perfumers utilizing stabilizers and UV filters which make perfume molecules less likely to oxidise, but the best thing you can do is to store scents somewhere cool, dark and dry. We recommend a drawer or cupboard in the shade. If your home is particularly warm, the fridge can also be a good option.

The good news is, if you suspect your fragrance has expired there is no need to worry or panic. While it may be annoying and financially inconvenient if you need to buy a new bottle, perfumes that have gone off can't harm you in any way, they merely offend the nostrils!

Emma North
Emma North

Emma North is the Beauty Writer at Future Publishing working across print and digital titles including woman&home, Woman, Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Own, Chat and GoodtoKnow. 

Before pursuing a career in beauty journalism, Emma worked as international cabin crew for over 4 years. Travelling around the globe and working night flights across several time zones at once, she is the perfect person to judge whether makeup and skincare claims actually hold up. If you want to know which foundations last 18+ hours or how to keep your lipstick looking flawless in 40º weather, she’s your go-to girl. 

Emma’s flying career came to an end when she realised that beauty journalism was her true passion and she undertook internships across publications including Vogue, Elle, The Telegraph and Glamour. She was then taken under the wing of Funmi Fetto, Contributing Beauty Editor at Vogue where Emma assisted with Funmi’s debut beauty book, Palette. 

Her big passion is finding truly beneficial skincare but, when she’s not testing out the latest products, you’ll find her trying to muscle her way into London’s best restaurants or relaxing at home in Devon with her dogs.