Does Aftershave Expire? Here’s how to check it…


I am sitting here looking at my bedside table, which is heaving under the weight of my prized collection of fragrances, glistening in the afternoon sunlight. 

These sublime, elegant glass curiosities, brimming with essential grooming scents are designed to fit harmoniously in the hand and I relish stealing the occasional, random spritz as I pass.  Such careless exposure to light and elements means it is inevitable that my fragrant cache accumulates dust between sprays and splashes, and so I wonder just how long they will last, should I store them better and what concerns me most is: 

Does aftershave expire? Fragrances can stay fresh for periods in excess of manufacturers’ recommended expiration by at least six years as long as they are properly stored in their original packaging in a stable, cool, dark environment with an even temperature where there is minimum air circulation.   

Aftershave-bottles

Where is the expiry date on aftershave? 

Every product of organic origin has a shelf life and therefore will be given a recommended ‘use by date’.  For food, this date is always clearly stamped on the front packaging where the familiar ‘best before’ advice is located but when it comes to cosmetics the ‘use by’ expiry date is presented a little differently.  

In fact, it was not until it was pointed out to me that I realized what that little ‘12M’ icon at the base of my bottle represented: once opened, manufacturers advise a product should be discarded if it has not been used up completely within the recommended time frame which is printed inside the expiry icon on the outside of the packaging or on the base of fragrances.  In most cases, the recommended expiry time frame for a fragrance is three years.   

You can find the open jar symbol or hourglass expiration symbol and PAO number (period after opening) on the perfume packaging and or bottle.  The PAO number is located inside the display expiry icon on the back of the fragrance packaging. The manufacturer is obliged to supply this information advising on the projected expiration; for example, ‘36M’ represents the number of months this product can be safely used after opening before it expires.  

How long do they last? 

The PAO number (period after opening), which is usually printed on the bottom of the bottle or at the back of the packaging, is a general guide to the consumer and is usually about thirty-six months for a fragrance.  Manufacturers recommend that once the product is opened, it should be used within the period of time as denoted within the PAO icon.   

In general, however, a fragrance will last, provided it is stored in the correct environment, between three to five years.   Perfume chemists state that perfumes stored correctly and carefully protected against the elements; avoiding extreme changes in temperature, exposure to light, intensive shaking, or breezy/air-filled environments, will last much longer than those that are not.   It is worthwhile making that extra effort to protect much loved and in many cases expensive fragrances from corruption by placing them in a secure storage vacuum. 

Despite best-laid plans for protecting those much-loved scents, it is important to be aware that unfortunately, a fragrance with delicate, light, floral, or green top notes or those that contain prominent citrus compositions as are typically found in examples of lighthearted summer scents will unfortunately become corrupted earlier than those with warmer, spicy, woody notes, and these lighter fragrances do not have a long shelf life. 

Yet a scent that exudes rich, lingering, distinctive base notes with a warm, heavy, sensual woodiness will endure longer.  Fragrances characterized by patchouli, ylang-ylang, or cedarwood, containing layers of amber or the legendary oud, the embodiment of infinity in a fragrance, project a scent with a dept that appears to continue into eternity. 

These rich and enriching ingredients, have the ability to endure longer than their more delicate floral and citrus counterparts and can consequently retain their original compositional character, whilst being stored in an appropriate environment, from anywhere up to a decade and in some cases beyond.   

How Do I protect My Fragrance? 

To maintain a fragrance’s original freshness a bottle of scent should experience minimal movement; never shake your fragrance bottle.   Excessive agitation of a fragrance initiates undesirable oxidation which damages those fine and intricate chemical bonds, pushing bubbles through the scent and compromising its original complexity, composition, and character.   

Store your favorite perfume, Eau de toilette, or cologne in an airtight container or even in its original packaging which, although seemingly unimportant, can significantly increase the life of a fragrance. 

It is important to house your fragrance in an area where there is minimum air circulation, and no extreme fluctuations in temperature: The fragrance should be stored away from moisture and humidity, in a place that is free from extremes in temperature and sunlight, it is paramount to keep your precious fragrances away from heat and out of direct sunlight.   

Storing your precious fragrance in the glove compartment of your car, with the type of extreme temperature changes this environment undergoes throughout the day, tolls a death knell for your fragrance.  If maintaining your fragrance throughout the day is an important consideration, decanting a little to carry will assist in replenishing the scent.  However, an authentic, quality fragrance will invariably only need to be applied once a day, remember the old adage: ‘less is more.  

Nonetheless, if one is traveling, a decanted fragrance is definitely the answer to enjoying your signature scent, whilst leaving the motherload at home in a secure environment!   

Where should I store my aftershave? 

The ideal place to store aftershave is away from the light, for example in a cupboard or wardrobe which is dark because the light and especially sunlight will compromise the integrity of the fragrance and consequently change the character and smell of the scent.  Also, the less ventilation a fragrance is exposed to the more likely it is to stay fresh for longer.    

Ideally, a fragrance should be stored in a place that is sufficiently airtight.  Incidental air leakage is something that is impossible to control, especially when you consider that every time you spray your fragrance the spray nozzle will inhale some air and pull it down into the bottled scent which inevitably changes and compromises the original composition. 

In order to counteract this problem, there are some simple but smart solutions, that savvy scent collectors recommend, such as storing products in a cupboard, a wine cooler, or a fridge. The latter of which is not ideal for all fragrances as it may damage the ‘delicate chemical balance’ of perfume but is nevertheless suitable for a cologne and eau de toilette because of their stronger chemical compositions.   

How do I know a fragrance has expired? 

The most obvious indication of a fragrance being expired is often its age; consider how long it has been opened, has been in use, and in what conditions it has been kept.   Fragrances can last in excess of a decade if properly stored but perfumers advise that often the lighter more floral or citrus top notes of a fragrance are the first to turn sour. 

The combination and ingredients of a scent will influence how long a fragrance will endure.  For example, a scent with heavier, warm, oriental base notes such as oud or amber will last much longer than the aforementioned delicate floral or fruity tones.    

If the scent is not housed within a light sealed container, examine the character of the liquid within the bottle, it will reveal a lot about a fragrance’s age before you even spritz it.  Consider the dept of the color of the liquid within the container; this very often becomes darker with age.  The movement of the fragrance’s liquid will also change in character; the liquid can become less buoyant and will move heavily and look as weighty as pop in a bottle, which is usually indicative of a fragrance that has gone past its sell-by date. 

Sometimes the bottle itself will reveal a lot, for example, direct sunlight may have damaged the housing case, or plastic trim, compromising it to the point where fragility and brittleness are evident.  If your fragrance shows one or all of these signs, you will not need to spritz to test the wearability of the scent as it will be evident from the outside that it is spoiled.  However, if you still doubt that the fragrance should be discarded, then a little spritz will reveal a sour underbelly reminiscent of a cat’s pee-ridden bedding!   

Does it matter if a fragrance is expired? 

Aside from the point that if your perfume does expire applying it could result in an unpleasant smell, there is also the fact that there is danger in using it because of the possibility of minor skin irritation or in some extreme and unwelcome cases an allergic reaction.   

Not only is scent a powerful method of communication but it also has the ability to bring the past, and those memories associated with it, vividly to life; the smell of freshly baked bread, your grandad’s old hairbrush, or that aftershave you used to wear as a teenager. 

More than any other of our senses, our sense of smell has the ability to almost instantaneously jolt the memory and open floodgates to the past.  The process of recalling the past through our sense of smell is greatly enhanced by scent, with many of us having such powerful associations with particular aromas that the experience of being exposed to them again can be very emotional.   

Cherished fragrances can translate into cherished memories and consequently are important to protect and safeguard, especially if a particular favorite scent is no longer being made. Learning that our perennial favorite aftershave is no longer in production can prompt multiple purchases, to put into storage, for future wear and that is why it is so important to be knowledgeable about how best to protect and store a scent properly and correctly.   

If you enjoyed this, then don’t miss: ‘Are Briefcases Still Used?’. 

John Cunningham

John is a writer, classic car and whiskey lover, men's shopping enthusiast and self appointed DIY expert. His greatest passion is repairing in the workshop, making old classics look and run like new again!

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