I’m a mere mortal, which means I can’t resist the lucite bins of mini products that line the Sephora checkout area. Besides being my go-to resource for tester sizes of the beauty chain’s best-sellers, this is also where I tend to scoop up travel-friendly perfume pens and rollerball versions of designer fragrances on a whim. I’ve amassed a solid collection of on-the-go scents; and while organizing my stash the other day, I couldn’t help but wonder: How long does perfume actually last? And do fragrances in pen form outlast their bottled counterparts?
“Although there's no technical expiration date, there is usually a suggested period after opening (PAO) date on most fragrances,” Cat Chen, founder of natural fragrance company Skylar, tells The Zoe Report. A PAO is different from an expiration date in one major way: It denotes how long the fragrance will stay stable after it’s been opened, whereas an expiration date is a hard-and-fast deadline based on when the product was manufactured.
Opening a perfume pen for the first time exposes the fragrance to air (which can oxidize the contents — aka, change the chemical makeup over time) and bacteria (which can lead to contamination); so theoretically, you could keep an unopened scent in your collection for years without having to worry about it. But after the first spritz, the majority of fragrances will last for 24 months, Chen says.
Because each fragrance is different, though, bottles, pens, and rollers are always marked with a symbol that communicates exactly how long the formula should last. You’ll notice either an hourglass-shaped drawing to mark an expiration date, or an illustration of an open jar to connote a PAO date. Both markers are followed by a number and a letter, like 24M or 3Y — which, as you can probably guess, indicate the number of months or years in the fragrance’s lifespan.
That said, there is a suggested shelf life for most fragrances. “Perfume pens and rollerballs have the same expiration guidelines as their bottled counterparts,” Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of BeautyStat.com, tells TZR. “They should last two to three years if stored correctly.” Beyond that, it’s up to you — Robinson notes that there shouldn’t be any harmful effects from using a fragrance after this timeline, but you might notice changes in color, consistency, and smell.
The key phrase here is if stored correctly. “As with all perfume, remember to keep your fragrances out of intense light, sunlight, and heat,” Chen says. “These environmental factors will accelerate the breakdown of the scent.” She adds that the bathroom is probably not the best place to display your #shelfie-worthy perfume collection, either. Due to the extreme changes in temperature and humidity (from hot showers and baths), or even sunlight streaming in through a window, bathroom storage actually decreases your fragrance’s life expectancy. Instead, like most of your beauty products “Store in cool, dry conditions,” Robinson says — like a cabinet or even your refrigerator. Finally, don’t forget to put the cap back on your perfume. Leaving fragrances open exposes them to air, which can change their scent and color in the long-term.
However, everyone knows that perfume pens and rollers are made for traveling, which typically involves exposure to fluctuating temperatures and not-so-optimal storage options. To mitigate the risk of early expiration, keep your travel-sized scents in your carry-on bag or purse (since checked baggage can go from cooking in the heat on the tarmac to chilling in near-freezing temps when stored under the plane).
“The other great advantage of a ‘rollie’ or pen is if you want to mix up your fragrance from day to night, you can pop it in your bag and switch up your scent by layering onto your base from the morning,” Chen shares. “And it goes on exactly where you want it — you can get specific on your pulse points to help fragrance last.”
Ahead, discover the latest perfume pens and rollerballs perfect for traveling and day-to-night scent switch ups alike.