Recognizing When a Product Has Gone Bad

You’ve received your Flower Balm in the mail and you love it! Maybe you keep it in your medicine cabinet and use it twice a day, or maybe you are savoring every delicious scoop and are cautiously storing it in drawer in your cool, dry, dark closet. You’ve followed all the tips to keep it fresh for as long as possible. But how do you tell when it’s gone bad?

I hear many people say that it’s easy, because you’ll notice mold on the product. Wrong-o! I have heard people who make homemade balms complain about mold, but something is wrong if that has happened. There should be no mold in an oil-based balm, unless they were made with water (not recommended). If you find mold in an oil-based balm that you bought from someone else, be aware that you have likely contaminated it with water (usually by dipping in with wet hands).

Can you guess which one is starting to go rancid?

Can you guess which one is starting to go rancid?

The truth is, oil rancidity is incredibly common and usually goes unnoticed by consumers. The good news is that most oils take a year or two to become fully rancid. The bad news is that by the time it gets into your hands, it’s already a couple months old – at least. When it comes to rancidity, oils from grocery stores are the worst offenders. I’ve read that olive oils in grocery stores are typically 1-2 years old already. (And think of all the light and heat they have been exposed to while on the shelves.) Thankfully, my supplier of oils is top-notch and sells incredibly fresh oils. However, all bath and body sellers have to gently heat their oils in order to create our amazing products, which oxidizes the oils a bit more, and once a bunch of oils and butters and waxes are mixed together, the aging process has sped up just a tad.

So how do you know when a product has gone rancid? I did some experiments with Flower Balm and Knitter’s Balm. I exposed them both to heat and direct sunlight, day after day. The Knitter’s Balm started looking and smelling a little rancid within eight months. The Flower Balm went down faster, going totally rancid in less than six months. The reason for this is that I experimented with Flower Balm in a jar, not a tin – the packaging lets in more light than a tin, obviously, and therefore, did not last as long! Meanwhile, the two (one of each product) that I kept in the dry, dark, cool closet were still in fabulous shape after 9 months. Most natural balms and oils have a shelf-life of 9-12 months if they are kept well.

Look at the difference in these two products! It is obvious that the one on the left has gone totally rancid. (The flecks are not mold - just bits of SJW.)

Look at the difference in these two products! It is obvious that the one on the left has gone totally rancid. (The flecks are not mold – just bits of SJW.)

There are two telltale signs of rancidity. First of all, the color of the product will have faded significantly. The balm will usually be a white-yellow, instead of a deeper yellow or gold. (Though, admittedly, it is much harder to notice the color change in a liquid body oil.) Secondly, the balm or oil will smell different. Rancid oil smells very bland – some say it has a metallic scent, while others say it smells a bit nutty (though not in an appetizing way). I’ve heard some compare it to the smell of crayons, which is exactly what it smells like to me!

If your products are exhibiting these two symptoms, it is O-V-E-R. They’re gone. There is some debate out there about whether or not it’s safe it use rancid oils, but being as rancid oils contain free radicals, I say it’s just safer to dump the products and replace them!

That said, when using natural products, you shouldn’t worry about rancidity. As long as you keep your products well and use them up in a reasonable amount of time, you will have no problems. But hopefully, these tips will help you recognize rancidity in products that have been forgotten in the back of your medicine cabinets when it’s time to spring clean!

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14 thoughts on “Recognizing When a Product Has Gone Bad

    • @Marcia: Me, too! It’s not *bad* to use slightly “over the hill” natural products. But they just lose efficacy over time, and then what’s the point, right? I definitely tend to keep my products (and other brands) for a LONG time. Sometimes two years. It depends on the product and what’s in it. I am careful about how I store things, so I’m confident that it’s okay. But if something is looking WAY too old (like the white Flower Balm in the picture) – I will definitely skip it! :)

    • @EcoGrrl: Lip balms are the same. It’s harder to tell, cuz they are already pale in color. But the scent will give it away – there’ll be that undertone of “crayons.” Perfumes and oils are super hard to gauge – it’s so hard to tell if the liquid has lost its color over time. But again, the smell will tell the tale.

        • @EcoGrrl: There was something else I remembered last night and wanted to tell you…and now I’ve forgotten again! LOL. Oh yeah! It popped back into my head! ;) I use rosemary extract in my perfumes, a natural preservative, so they will definitely last longer. I chose to do that because it takes people a long time to go through perfumes, whereas many of us go through balms a lot faster (at least I do!).

    • @EcoYogini: YES! Clay lasts a super long time. I did add ground herbs to that mixture, but again, they will simply lose efficacy over time, which won’t affect the overall product. They (the herbs) won’t “go bad” – just lose their “power” so to speak! :) The clay can last many, many years.

  1. So, wait, hold the phone. Are you saying that the circle pattern that you often see in some salves (like in the first photo) is actually rancidity? I was wondering just today what that was, and was under the impression that it was just from the process of cooling down. I’ve seen freshly made salves do that, which would indicate that the oil was already rancid. More info please?

    • @Lauren: No, no! The circle pattern is, indeed, simply a product of different ingredients mixing together and drying at slightly different rates. That’s NOTHING to worry about, at all. The first picture is merely meant to illustrate the difference in COLOR. The one on the left had started to age and was no longer fresh. It wasn’t rancid yet – just losing “mojo.” It turns almost completely white when rancid.

      Good question! Thanks for asking! Let me know if you have any others.

    • P.S. @Lauren: There may be all kinds of little differences in color and “patterns”, almost none of which indicate rancidity. There may even be herbal sediment in herbal balms and that’s totally safe, as well. You’re really looking for two big factors: smell and color. If it’s white or almost white – rancid. If it smells like crayons – rancid. Hope that helps!

  2. Phew! Thanks for the info! I just made two batches of salve that all had that pattern on them, and I was starting to worry! Thanks so much!

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