The short answer: It depends on the type of fragrance you have. Of course, traditional perfumes typically come laden with alcohols and stabilizers that extend the shelf-life quite a bit (we’re talking years). Natural-leaning fragrances, on the other hand, have a much shorter window—the market still has some catching up to do, but a natural spritz tends to have less of the questionable players.
Yet even with a natural fragrance, the shelf-life has a broad range depending on the notes. “Typically, a more musky or woody type of perfume will last 12 to 15 months,” says chemist and co-founder of NUELE Christine Martey-Ochola, Ph.D. That’s because those scents aren’t as volatile (meaning, they don’t evaporate as quickly). If you have a floral or citrus-based scent, however, those tend to evaporate pretty fast: Martey-Ochola suggests a shelf-life of six to 12 months for those lighter notes.
In terms of what causes perfume to expire, consider these three main events: oxidation, UV exposure, and temperature. When your perfume interacts with air, heat, and sunlight, it has the potential to turn rancid, assuming there aren’t too many stabilizers in the formula to keep it fresh. That said, if a fragrance marketed as natural boasts a shelf-life of five or some years, you might want to take a closer look: “There could be a whole lot of stabilizers and other chemicals in there,” says Martey-Ochola.