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Perfume Changing Color Over Time? Here's What It Really Means

May 9, 2019

Ever reached for a bottle of perfume you haven't used in a while only to find its contents mysteriously darker than you remember? Your instinct might have been to question whether it was still a good idea to spray it all over your body—but rest assured, like a fine wine, a good perfume will evolve over time.

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Why perfumes will change color over time.

"Natural ingredients in fragrances are unstable. That's how they create a scent actually; it's because the molecules are breaking down and evaporating," says Bee Shapiro of Ellis Brooklyn, a clean fragrance line that leans on ingredients like sandalwood, rose, and vanilla bean for its eau de parfum. "That also means that natural ingredients in fragrances can often change color over time and also even have different coloration during production."

Baptiste Bouygues, the co-founder of new natural perfume line ORMAIE Paris, adds that these ingredients will likely get lighter or darker, especially when they're exposed to variations in sunlight or temperature. "It takes a few months to happen… When you work with natural ingredients, it is normal for things to evolve."

So in the same way you'd store an essential oil blend in a dark amber bottle to preserve its properties for longer, keeping your perfume out of direct sunlight in a cool, dark place will help it last longer.

The issue with some super shelf-stable perfume.

From this perspective, it might be a red flag if your fragrance stays the same shade for its whole life. As is the case with ultra-processed food, suspiciously shelf-stable perfume probably contains chemicals and preservatives. One of the top synthetics to be wary of is a category known as phthalates, which are known endocrine disrupters1 that can extend the shelf life of scents.

While you won't find these listed on a label, they can be lumped into the "fragrance" umbrella. According to the U.S. FDA2, individual ingredients in fragrances don't have to be disclosed on the label since they can be considered trade secrets. When you see "parfum" or "fragrance” listed on the label, keep this in mind and dig a little deeper.

"Look for information specifying that the fragrance is derived from essential oils, absolutes, etc. Beware of the term 'nature identical'—it means it's an aroma chemical found in nature but synthesized in a lab," cautions Krystal Quinn Castro of California-based perfume brand Los Feliz Botanicals.

And let this wonky loophole be a lesson for the next time you're in the market for a new scent: Shapiro recommends looking for one that is compliant with the rules around the world, not just in the notoriously lax U.S. market, and certified safe by a reputable source, such as the International Fragrance Association.

Moral of the story: Judge a perfume not by its color but by its ingredient list and certifications.

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.