Is your perfume past its prime?

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Ever sprayed your perfume in a small space, only to be assaulted by an awful smell? I have.

Just last week, I made the crucial error of spritzing an old favourite in the car (the operative word being ‘old’). Turns out, old faithful had gone bad. Very, very bad. It was like a cloud of sour, stale vinegar which quickly seeped into my clothing, the seats of my car, my hair, my mouth. Delicious.

It got me thinking – how had it gone off? It wasn’t stored in a different place to my other perfumes, and I had older ones that still smelled just fine. So why this one? I did some research and it turns out, here are the reasons…

What are the first signs of a fragrance expiring?

Without smelling it, the first thing to note is a change in colour. If it’s looking a little darker or thicker than usual, it’s probably spoiled. But if your perfume isn’t housed in a clear bottle, you’re going to have to spray it to find out for sure.

If the initial notes smell vinegary, acidic or sour, you’ll know it’s old. Before you bin it, keep in mind it could still be okay to use. An old fragrance, if well-made, might smell odd at first sniff, but may fade to a more subdued scent of the original fragrance. Just make sure you do a test run before heading out on a hot date wearing funky parfum!

(L – R) Lancôme 1001 Roses, Estée Lauder Beyond Paradise, Clinique Aromatics in White, Benefit Crescent Row See & Be Seen Sasha, Carven L’Eau De Toilette

How long does perfume keep?

Generally speaking, once a bottle has been opened, it should be used fairly quickly. Michael Edwards, founder of Fragrances of the World, says, “All fragrances deteriorate with time: light, citrus-based perfumes in as little as six months, floral scents in about a year and a half”. Without a specific use-by date, your best bet is to make sure your perfume lasts is to look after it.

What makes perfume go off?

We all love a citrusy scent (Orange Blossom all the way!), but they’re fragile. Along with florals, fruity notes are very volatile and have a tendency to go off very quickly. Natural ingredients are also vulnerable, thanks to the lack of preservatives, whereas woody and amber scents, like a good wine, actually improve with age. 

(L – R) Lady Gaga Eau De Gaga EDP, Chanel Chance Eau Vive, MOR Modern Apothecary Little Luxuries Perfume Oil, Avon Little Black Dress

Can you prevent a perfume from going bad?

Edwards says the best defense is to keep your fragrance in a “cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat sources,” which is contrary to our impulses to keep our beautiful bottles on display. Extreme heat or cold will upset the delicate balance of the oils and change the scent. It’s a good idea to keep any fragrance you’re not wearing in the fridge. Remember the three enemies: sunlight, heat and air – and with that in mind, keep the perfumes in their boxes and out of the bathroom.

Another tip? Think small. When there is too much empty space in the bottle, the fragrance will oxidise and smell off, so it’s always better to buy a smaller bottle. Also, atomisers emit less air than a bottle with a screw cap, so using one of those will limit contamination and slow down evaporation.

(L – R) Les Secrets Magie Noire, Crabtree & Evelyn Night Garden Eau de Parfum Kashmir Musk

Look, by all means if you love keeping your scents on display, do so! What’s the point of having something beautiful nobody is going to see anyway? Perfume is one of those rare purchases that’s intended to indulge our romantic side, playing with both our memory and emotions in an intangible way. Just be mindful of where you place it in your home. The drier and cooler the place, the better!

Have you ever had a fragrance go bad? How did you tell?

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