How to store and organize your oils
Part two of Aromatherapy Capsule Collection - Lets get organised!
Are you sentimental and have a tendency to hoard things? Or do you have a ruthless approach regularly de-cluttering and keeping everything minimal? I used to be the former, then for the last ten years or so, I have done some ruthless removals of my possessions. Do I have any regrets? Probably only throwing out all my 90s clubwear, I do wish I had kept that.
One area of my home that did remain quite unorganized and cluttered was my bathroom cupboard and to an extent my essential oil collection. It was shoved in a set of Muji drawers and wasn’t that accessible. I know, not a great admission for an aromatherapist!
So, how do you store your oils and are you happy with it? If not, you might want to read on. I will also cover the important topic of essential oil shelf life & storage - how best to preserve your precious liquid. Please note, I will not be covering shelf life of vegetable or base oils, this is something different, to be discussed on, in a future post.
What’s the best way of displaying essential oils?
There is no one way and it very much depends on your home aesthetics and available space. However, they must be accessible and easy to identify. The contents of the bottle visible by viewing the front label, or a small sticker on the cap. If you cannot see the name of the oil, you will start to forget about those at the back of the box, cupboard or wherever they are.They will not get used, believe me, its happened to me many times. You really don’t want to waste these precious oils!
The classic way to store your oils, it's practical, doesn’t take up much space, can fit in a cupboard out of sight if preferred too. You must invest in some stickers for the caps thoug,h so you can actually identity what’s in the box. Most aromatherapy suppliers offer some well made ones. Some of my favourites are from www.quinessence.com and www.aromaoutfitters.com
The only downside of the boxes is oil size. They tend to come in the standard sizes to fit 5-15ml whereas some retailers do use larger bottles. So depending on your oil collection, this can become frustrating, as there is normally only a small space to put outsized items.
Picture frame shelves
These narrow skinny shelves are a great way to display your oils, you do need a bit of space and of course it means drilling into the wall, so this may not always be feasible. You can have the shelves up high, out of the way of kids too, which is a nice feature and fit all variety of sizes, even storing your vegetable oils here too.
This is a bit more apothecary style and does have the potential to start getting messy, have to keep it tidy! Think Aesop, but it could turn out more thrift shop style.
You might have a bathroom cupboard with small narrow shelves, this is nice because you can close the door and not have the oils in full view if it doesn’t suit your home. Sometimes these cupboards aren’t very big though, so depending on the size of your collection it might not be large enough.
Beauty display wracks
You can get a bit creative and find old beauty display units and reuse. For example nail polish display cases often work for oils. Again you might not have so much variety in the size it can hold. And it might not be that space efficient.
This looks really pretty, a beautifully crafted round or square basket. Just ensure you have the stickers on the top so you can easily identity the oils.
Yes the fridge! This will keep your oils uber fresh, especially if you live in a warm climate and it’s the way many professionals store them. Of course this is space dependent. Not everyone is going to have space for a spare fridge. But if you do have a store room, garage, shed, spare room, it might be a consideration. Do be careful though to keep it locked if you have young kids. They might think it's edible as the product is in the fridge. This is VERY important. Essential oils ingested can cause fatalities. Alternatively, if you have space to put oils in your food fridge this is fine too, just ensure that they are in sealed containers, otherwise your food has the potential to absorb the oils. Note too, that some oils will thicken when cool, so you must allow it to warm at room temperature before using.
You can also use small drawers, but as mentioned, I used this previously and did not find it that user friendly. Having to pull out the drawer means some oils at the back, did not quite get the same exposure to my sightline and were forgotten.
Safety regarding storage
OK, now you have your oils organized, they look beautiful and are accessible, but what about the practical stuff? How long should you keep them? Do they really have a use by date?
Do Essential oils have a shelf life?
The quick answer is YES! I am hearing some suppliers saying there is no shelf life. Please understand this is not true. Ok, some could last up to 10 years, but not all and it’s important to understand why.
Lets look at a small amount of chemistry to understand.
Essential oils are volatile organic compounds. They can vaporize easily, thus allowing us to smell them. It also means the oils will degrade when exposed to heat, light and oxygen.
When exposed to oxygen the chemical constituents of the oil can change (oxidization). Certain groups of oils are more at risk, such as the lighter citrus-like ones and spruce/pine oils. Ok, it changes, so what? Well, one example, a study in 1993 found that oxidized lemongrass oil had lost most of its antibacterial properties (source: Robert Tisserand). Another factor is the oil can actually become hazardous. When oxidization takes place, it forms new chemical compounds, which can cause skin sensitization.
The effects of heat degradation have been less researched. But it is known certain oils and particularly those extracted by C02 method (rather than distillation) are more at risk of heat damage.
The effects of light, especially ultra violet light, can also damage essential oils, promoting the formation of free radicals and causing the structure of the oils to change.
There are other chemical reactions, which can occur, such as reunification, meaning the viscosity of the oil will increase (liquid will become more runny) and the presence of water will also damage essential oils
It is important to store your oils well, remember:
- Keep in dark bottles,
- Out of sunlight,
- Consistent temperature, cool if possible.
- Transfer smaller amounts of liquid from larger bottles to small ones
But how to determine their shelf life and identity if they have spoiled?
It’s actually quite hard to predict the shelf life of oils, as many things will vary, the quality of the harvest, the plant, the distillation or extraction process, the handling, the storage and of course it depends when you start the clock. For this, assuming you start the clock from day one of opening your bottle.
General Guide: (Source: Robert Tisserand)
Citrus fruit, neroli, lemongrass, frankincense, tea tree, pine and spruce oils 1-2 years
Virtually every other essential oil 2-3 years
Sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli 4-8 years
How to tell if the essential oil has spoiled?
It is not always easy. Of course you need to develop your ‘nose’ and should have some idea by the aroma changing and in some cases the viscosity of the liquid. Take extra precaution with citrus/pine and spruce oils and if older, do a small patch test to see if any sensitization occurs.
What to do with spoiled oils?
Many can still be used in homemade cleaning products, of course they do lose their antibacterial properties in some cases, but you will still benefit from the pleasant aroma and some of their properties. Its a nice way to stop waste and use them up.
If you have made or bought a blended body oil (essential oils and vegetable oils), you should use within approximately 6 months if stored well. Please use your nose though! If it smells rancid and 'off' its probably no good.
Enjoy organizing and using your oils, please use responsibly, always dilute before applying to the skin, keep out of reach of kids and consult a professional if unsure.