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When Will the Cologne I’ve Never Worn Go Bad?

I’M SAVING IT FOR A SPECIAL OCCASION, OKAY?!?!

So you got yourself a fancy bottle of cologne. But at more than $200, you want to savor every last spray. Which means you’re pushing down on that spritzer about as often as you’re putting on a suit and tie during a pandemic. After all, it’s not like cologne expires, right? 

Wrong. 

Per Robert LaCombe, a moderator of the subreddit r/fragrance as well as the popular Facebook group The Fragrance Guru Nation, colognes, like just about everything else, do indeed have an expiration date. Having said that, also like just about everything else, he says that expiration date isn’t to be trusted since most colognes can last “much, much, much longer than the advertised expiration dates.”

What, Then, Does the Expiration Date Actually Mean?

Fragrances, according to LaCombe, are typically made up of two types of raw materials. The scent you detect first is the top note, and the scent that leaves a lasting impression is the base note. The expiration date is really just an estimate of when the top note (the most fleeting aspect of the fragrance) is likely to spoil. “Say the cologne has two ingredients, for simplicity’s sake,” he says. “One ingredient has a shelf life of 15 years, and the other three years. The perfumer will likely slap an expiration date of three years on it as it’s ‘technically’ expired at that point.” 

FWIW, LaCombe adds that most fragrances will typically last anywhere between three and five years. 

What Can I Do to Prevent My Cologne From Expiring?

Despite everything explained above, a fragrance can go bad in under a year depending on storage conditions. “UV light is the single worst thing you can expose perfume to in normal settings,” LaCombe explains. “I’ve smelled spoiled testers that were maybe months/less than a year old in the mall that were destroyed by the light stands they resided on.”

To that end, according to Perfume.com, “If a perfume has a colored bottle, it may be more resistant to light, but should still be kept in a dark place.” In fact, LaCombe says that as long as you keep your cologne out of the light and at a stable room temperature, it could even outlast you. “I have perfume from the 1960s or older that smells fantastic,” he tells me.

Which Scents Last the Longest?

Typically, musk or woody base notes, as they tend to evaporate at a slower rate than those with a fruity or floral base, LaCombe explains. As such, your Creed Aventus and Tom Ford Oud Wood are more likely to outlast Terre D’Hermes, which is well-known for its citrus-y scent. “The heavier/sweeter/oriental fragrances seem to hold up better,” LaCombe adds. 

How Can I Tell If My Cologne Is Expired?

LaCombe says that if it smells good, it is good, regardless of age. On the flip side: “​​Some will just have a rancid smell to them. Some may smell vinegar-y; others might have a weird acrid smell.”

What Would Happen If I Used Expired Cologne?

Though it’s unlikely, you could develop a skin rash. More likely, you’re gonna smell like rubbing alcohol.

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