Imagine: it’s a bitterly cold winter’s morning, and the night was even colder. Snow, wind, ice, the full monty. You wake up, and you realize that you left that expensive new perfume you bought in the car overnight.
Panicked, you rush out to the car to retrieve it.
“Will it be frozen solid? Will all of my hard earned doubloons be for naught?” you wonder.
Breathless, you throw open the car door, and what do you find?
Surprise, surprise: your perfume is totally fine.
Exposing a perfume to the cold will not cause any lasting damage. Conventional perfumes cannot freeze because they are usually 80-90% alcohol by volume (ABV). Oil or water based perfumes, or perfumes with a higher concentration of fragrance oils, can freeze, however.
Let’s find out why.
Why a perfume can’t freeze
As I mentioned, most perfumes on the market contain between 80-90% alcohol by volume (ABV), and this is why it is very likely that they won’t freeze.
Of course, it isn’t impossible. The freezing point of ethanol, which is the alcohol used in perfumes and in liquor, is -173°F (-114°C), roughly equivalent to a frosty night near the poles of Mars. Depending on the concentration, a typical perfume will freeze at temperatures between -90 to -130°F (-68 to -90°C). By comparison, the average temperature of your average freezer is at or a little bit below 0°F (-18°C).
So unless you’ve got a freezer capable of producing Martian surface temperatures, or have a supply of liquid nitrogen handy, your bottle of La Vie Est Belle won’t be freezing any time soon, and wouldn’t freeze even if you left it outside in the Antarctic winter.
This is the same reason why spirits like whiskey, rum, or vodka won’t freeze. Whiskey and rum tend to have an ABV concentration of 40-50%, while vodka hovers around 35-45%.
In a conventional freezer, these spirits won’t freeze, though they will if exposed to temperatures of around -17F (-27°C) due to their comparatively high water content. Perfume, on the other hand, has a much higher concentration of alcohol and lower concentration of water and other ingredients than spirits.
The higher the amount of alcohol, the lower the freezing point. So even if you left your bottle of perfume out in the frigid Canadian winter, it won’t be frozen.
If you have an oil or water based perfume, however, these can and will freeze. If you’ve left an oil based perfume out in the freezing cold, you might very well have more cause for worry. Once you’ve retrieved it, let it thaw at room temperature for a few hours or days, and it should be more or less fine.
Can cold temperatures damage perfumes?
This is a slightly more difficult question to answer, but for the most part: no.
Of course, I wouldn’t advise you to leave your perfume on top of a glacier for extended periods. But some experts recommend that you store your fragrances in a refrigerator or a wine cooler to preserve them.
Why? It’s simple. The greatest enemies of perfume are light and heat. While cold temperatures won’t do much to harm your perfume, high heat and UV rays will.
UV rays from the sun can penetrate perfume bottles, upsetting the delicate chemical balance created by the perfumer. Heat can and will spoil a perfume by causing evaporation and denaturing fragrance molecules if left unchecked for too long.
The combination of light and heat can cause a rapid breakdown in the chemical structure of a perfume, and soon that beautiful new fragrance you bought will be little better than mouthwash.
Keeping a perfume cold, however, will not have the same effect. Of course, exposing it to freezer temperatures for an extended period of time will certainly not be good for it, it won’t spoil as quickly as it will if exposed to hot temperatures and sunlight.
Indeed, it has been observed that keeping perfumes in the refrigerator can be quite a positive thing, though it’s unclear if this can be owed to the cold as much as to stability and lack of light and air
Perfumes are extremely sensitive to swings in temperature, perhaps even more so than to high heat and sunlight. This is why you should never, ever keep your perfume in the bathroom or in the car. The rapid changes of temperature and humidity in the bathroom and the sunlight in the car will leave you with nothing more than a useless glass of smelly water.
The jury is still out on whether or not keeping perfumes in the fridge is the best course of action. If you do it, though, make sure that you leave them in there for good; taking them in and out and in and out of the fridge, and therefore exposing them to temperature swings, is certainly no good.
I recommend, though, that you keep your perfumes in a cool, dark place with a stable temperature – maybe not refrigerator temp, but around 55 to 72°F (12 to 22°C). Your perfumes might not last forever that way, but they will definitely have more longevity than perfumes left in a car or on the bathroom shelf.
What should I do if I leave my perfume out in the cold?
If you leave your perfume out in the cold, very simply bring it back in and let it return to room temperature. Pretty soon it’ll be spick and span.
If you think about it, perfumes are shipped all over the world and exposed to both hot and cold temperatures all the time. Ordering a fragrance in the dog days of summer or the dead of winter might make it smell a little…wobbly right out of the box. But give it a few hours or days to come up to room temp and it’ll be A-OK.
The Final Word
In short: if you left your perfume out in the cold or (for some inexplicable reason) threw it in the freezer, don’t panic.
Alcohol has a very low freezing point, far lower than what commercial home freezers can handle.
Therefore, exposing a perfume to the cold for a short time won’t cause any lasting damage. Most conventional perfumes contain between 80-90% ABV, and therefore cannot freeze at any temperature found naturally on Earth. Oil or water based perfumes can freeze, however, and caution should be taken with them. In both cases, allow the perfume to slowly come up to room temperature before using it.