When Does Perfume Actually Expire? We Investigate

Amandine Pallez of Bvlgari Parfums weighs in.

Updated 11/13/19
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Finding a scent you’re obsessed with can feel like hitting the lottery. So, once you’ve made the investment in a fragrance, you want to do everything you can to preserve its longevity. Because no matter how fabulous, all good things can come to an end—especially if you’re not giving your fragrance the TLC it needs. Certain behaviors can actually alter the chemical makeup of a scent, making it expire sooner. Ahead, Amandine Pallez—Senior Creative Director at Bvlgari Parfums—helps us determine how to tell when your perfume has expired (plus how to make your favorite fragrance last longer). 

What Happens When Your Fragrance Expires?

Typical Shelf Life

Most fragrance manufacturers will recommend tossing your bottle after anywhere from one to three years (check your label), but since fragrance doesn't expire in the same sense that food does, it's sometimes okay to keep using a bottle for four, even five years.

Pallez confirms that indeed, fragrance does have a shelf life. However, she says, “There is no hard and fast rule.” She does offer tips on how to make your scent last, but first you have to understand a little something about the chemical composition of cologne.

Oxidation

“In my experience,” says Pallez, “perfumes do not fade in intensity, but the scent tends to become oxidized, sour, sometimes acidic or metallic or with notes of plastic.” In other words, too much oxygen inside your perfume bottle can alter the molecules of the fragrance which can affect overall scent. 

“The oxidation can come from the top notes like citrus, aromatics that are at risk, but also by the dry-down of the fragrance,” explains Pallez. Different formulas are more prone to oxidizing, which is why some perfumes last longer than others. “I have personally noticed that Chypre fragrances with a high concentration of Patchouli tend to risk a scent’s longevity,” she says. “Some resins and incense can be also surprising.”

Which Perfumes Last the Longest?

The longest lasting aromatics have a lot of chemical stability. “Woodsy notes, amber, and leather are quite stable,” says Pallez, “even after three years.”

Perfumes with high alcohol content tend to last the longest as the alcohol prevents the aromatic molecules from oxidizing. You might think of alcohol as an ingredient to avoid in beauty products, but when it comes to fragrance, au contraire. Alcohol is the key preservative for the integrity of a perfume. “These are typically colognes or the eau de toilettes with 90 percent alcohol,” says Pallez. “The less concentrated it is, the best longevity you can expect. A fragrance is usually 70 to 90 percent alcohol, which provides preservative support.”

These fragrances tend to expire (or lose intensity) the fastest:

  • Clean and alcohol-free fragrances
  • Oil-based fragrances
  • Perfumes with patchouli or citrus notes

The role of alcohol is key, and has been used as a preservative in perfume since Antiquity. “The Venetians invented [this technique] when they started trading their ‘made in Italy’ fragrances across Europe,” explains Pallez. “Their scents had a new longevity feature, which was not the case of the previous fragrances that were made with oil.” The rest of your fragrance’s formula, notes Pallez, is the concentrate made up of “dozens of different ingredients, naturals or synthetic molecules, in which we add a stabilizer and some UV filters to further maximize the longevity and the stability of the fragrance.”

And although clean fragrances can be appealing for those looking for a nontoxic beauty routine, these types of perfumes tend to lose intensity quickly. “If a fragrance does not contain alcohol, which acts as a preservative, it will have a shorter shelf life,” says Pallez. She adds, “Natural molecules are typically less stable than synthetic.” It’s up to you to decide what’s important to you in a fragrance and note that all clean perfume isn’t created equal. 

Tips to Make Your Perfume Last Longer

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Keep Perfume Away from Light

Perfume bottles

 

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Although it might look cute to place your perfume bottles on your window sill, this is the worst place to store fragrance if you want to preserve its integrity. Pallez says that light will break down the molecules of a fragrance making its composition unstable and prone to oxidation.  

02 of 05

Keep Perfume Away from Heat

Assorted perfume bottles

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Heat will also break down fragrance molecules and alter its chemical makeup. Pallez suggests you  keep the fragrance below 15 degrees celsius or 59 degrees fahrenheit.

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Keep On Using It Until the Bottle Is Empty

giorgio armani fragrance on bed

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“When half empty, the oxygen inside increases the risk of alteration,” says Pallez. “This is not easy for most of consumers today, who have an average of four different fragrances at home, alternating from one to the other.” She advises to alternate fragrance only once the bottle is empty, especially for highly concentrated fragrances.

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Store Fragrance in a Closed Cupboard

Perfume bottle on tray

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With water pipes, heat, and humidity, your bathroom is not ideal for storing your perfume collection. Instead, try a lined lingerie box or vanity out of direct sunlight. Another idea is to keep perfume in their original boxes in your bedroom or study. 

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Store Perfume in a Chill Place

miss dior perfume with shadow

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To keep your fragrance at the ideal temperature, the fridge is a good option. However, Pallez has a caveat. “The fridge is not perfect place if the whole family keeps on opening its door, constantly lighting up the inside.” You could wrap your fragrance in aluminum foil, or better yet, try the freezer. Perfume contains alcohol so it won’t freeze, plus it feels refreshing at a cooler temperature.

Taking care of your fragrance is essential to preserving its longevity. Plus, you can get the most out of your scent by applying it correctly. Avoid rubbing fragrance on pulse points, as your body heat will evaporate some of the notes. Instead, apply on moist, damp skin to lock in scent as you savor every last drop.

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