If you’ve ever owned a fragrance for many years, you may have noticed that the potency had lessened or it started to smell off over time. These are signs your perfume could be nearing its expiration date.
Does perfume expire? Does cologne go bad? They definitely can, but there are many things you can do to increase its lifespan. The quality of the perfume, the scent family it’s in and how the fragrance is stored can have a major impact on how long it lasts.
Here we’ll cover everything you need to know about how long perfume and cologne lasts, how to tell if your perfume has expired and how to store it properly.
Can Perfume Go Bad?
Yes, perfume and cologne do go bad. However, how long they last depends on the scent’s chemical composition. Many perfumes don’t have a hard-and-fast expiration date. Some will begin to expire in less than a year and others will last upwards of 10 years. However, three to five years is the average shelf life of a fragrance.
According to experts, perfumes with heavier base notes will last the longest. Some people compare these perfumes to a fine wine—they get better with age. Examples of scents with heavier base notes include oriental scents, such as those with patchouli and amber.
When the lighter base notes are prominent in a fragrance, the solution is often more volatile. Citrus, floral and green perfumes, for instance, often don’t last as long.
Shelf life also depends on how you store the fragrances. Perfumes that are stored correctly will last much longer than those that are not (more on that later).
If your perfume does expire, applying it could result in an unpleasant smell, skin irritations or—in extreme cases—an allergic reaction. If your perfume is more than a couple years old, it’s probably best to test it before you use it.
Three Simple Ways to Tell If Your Perfume Is Expired
You can tell if your perfume is expired by checking its scent, appearance and any expiration dates that might be included. Like we mentioned before, many people believe that if the perfume still smells good, it’s not expired (even if it smells different).
Other people will say they are unable to tell if a fragrance has gone bad. Here are some ways you can test if your perfume is expired.
Test How It Smells
The most obvious way to tell if your perfume has gone bad is to test its scent. Some perfumes may contain vegetable oils which are known to expire over time. If your scent contains no fat (like in the case of essential oils), it will last longer.
If your perfume or cologne smells of vinegar or you notice a significant change in the concentration of the original scent, it might be expired. It’s also likely expired if the scent is significantly different than the one you started off with.
See How It Looks
Another way to test your perfume is to look at the color. A perfume that’s darker in color than you started out with could mean it has gone bad. If you started out with a clear or translucent gold liquid and you now have a more opaque or amber liquid, that could be a sign it’s expired.
Over time, scents with large alcohol concentrations may evaporate. An expired perfume will often have less perfume in the bottle than it did the last time you checked it.
Check the Expiration Date
Many times your perfume will have some sort of expiration date on its packaging. This can come in the form of either a batch code or a PAO (Period After Opening) number. These are typically found on the bottom of the perfume or printed on the box it comes in.
There are often many other numbers like the catalog number and bar code that are also printed on the packaging. It’s important to know which number you are looking at to determine if your perfume is expired.
The batch code is an identification code that specifies when and where a perfume was produced. Perfume companies use these codes for quality control purposes, to identify a bad batch of perfume and remove it from the market. All original, branded perfumes should have their own batch code.
The batch code comes in many variations but usually consists of three to 12 numbers. Some may have letters included in the code as well. These codes can often look different than the other numbers on the packaging as they are applied to the already printed package during distribution.
Some examples of batch code include:
Christian Dior: 1N03
David Beckham: L1 0759086986
CheckFresh has a very handy drop-down menu that allows you to select the designer of your perfume and provides specific examples of what their batch codes look like. You can then enter the code and find out exactly how old your perfume is.
You can find a small symbol that represents an open jar with a number near it on your perfume packaging. This number is the number of months after opening that you can use your perfume before it expires.
Typically, the recommended usage time is 30 months after the perfume is opened. That means at about two and a half years you should start testing your fragrance to see if it’s expired.
How to Store Perfume
If you want your perfume to last as long as possible, it’s important that you store it properly. Storing a fragrance correctly means keeping it away from harsh temperature fluctuations.
While it can be tempting to store your fragrance in the bathroom, the hot and cool temperature changes can actually cause your perfume to expire faster. Humidity can also mess with the chemicals inside.
You should also avoid keeping your perfume in direct sunlight as the heat breaks down the chemical structure of the perfume, making it lose its potency.
Since heat breaks perfumes down, you may think storing it in the fridge is a good idea. However, when you take the perfume out of your fridge the temperature fluctuation can be just as damaging.
Perfume is the most stable in a cool, dry, and dark place such as a bedroom drawer or closet. It’s best to keep the perfume in its original container as exposure to air can also upset the chemical balance. It can also accelerate the evaporation of the alcohol inside, making the fragrance expire faster.
Determining whether or not your perfume has expired can be tricky. If your perfume is more than two and a half years old, you may want to test it for signs of expiration. However, if your perfume smells good and has a similar color and consistency to when you bought it, it should be safe to apply. Some high-quality perfumes can even last years to come if stored correctly.