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Wait, How Long Can You Keep Perfume?

Britt Aboutaleb

Wait, How Long Can You Keep Perfume?

Photo: Raymond Meier/Trunk Archive

When the salesperson at Barneys told me that I was only supposed to hang on to a bottle of perfume for a year, I panicked. I was about to spend almost $200 on my first Le Labo—a big deal—and this information threw a giant wrench into the internal monologue I had going to justify such an extravagant purchase. I bought the scent, and only just parted with it now, some five years later. Was that so wrong? Turns out, kind of.

Fabrice Penot, co-founder of the aforementioned Le Labo, the cult fragrance with fans like Kirsten Dunst, Karl Lagerfeld, and Alexa Chung, says you have about 18 months from the first spray to retirement. It depends, of course, on the scent itself. “A fresh citrus note is very volatile and much more fragile than a base note like tonka bean or sandalwood,” Penot says, meaning your summer scent is probably going to have a shorter shelf-life than whatever you wear from November to March.

The best way to lengthen the life of your perfume is to rethink your storage situation. Of course, one of the best things about fragrance is the handsome bottles in which they’re packaged, so it makes sense to want to display them, but they’d be better off hidden from the world. “Light, heat and oxygen are the worst enemies of perfume,” Penot says. “For the oxygen part, you can’t do much: the more the perfume level in the bottle goes down, the more oxygen there is in the bottle.” For the light and the heat, however, he suggests keeping everything in the fridge.

Don’t worry, you don’t need a calendar, but if your perfume starts to change color, or smell even slightly acidic, it’s time to move on. As Penot so poetically puts it, “Like every beautiful thing in life, perfume ingredients are fragile.”