How Long Does Nail Polish Last



It might be time to go through your various nail polish collections and see whether it still has that sheer glow when you apply a coat on your nail.

There is an overwhelming amount of information about nail lacquer and its shelf life on the Internet, so it can get a bit confusing when trying to find out whether your nail polish is still good to be used.

We did the hard work and collected all the research that we can find on how long nail polish lasts and when it is time to discard it.

We will also touch on how you can make your nail polish last longer.

What Is The Shelf Life Of Nail Lacquer?

Lacquers do not have a mandated shelf life. Without this expiration date, consumers do not know how long nail polish lasts on average.

The manufacturers need to establish an appropriate date because there is no designated shelf life of nail polish given by the FDA. This is where PAO (Period After Opening) comes to play.

A product’s PAO will be indicated either on the nail polish or the nail polish’s packaging. The PAO symbol will contain a number and letter. For instance, 12M will refer to 12 months. This number represents how long the varnish has been tested to be safe to use after it has been opened. 

A rule of thumb is that an unopened and securely stored varnish can last for 18 to 24 months, whereas gel nail polish can last for 24 to 36 months.

Some say that you can keep the nail lacquer for a tiny bit longer after those 2 years mark if you have kept the polish stored in a cool, dark spot.

So, it is better to pay attention to any signs of the varnish becoming spoiled.

Why Does Nail Polish Go Bad?

Nail polishes have ingredients that tend to be stable compounds that are antimicrobial by nature.

With that being said, nail polishes’ mixtures settle and separate if they are not being used for an extended period.

How To Spot An Expired Nail Polish

This section will describe ways in which you can discern whether your varnish is still usable.

Your Polish Is Not Blending So Easily Anymore

If your polish cannot blend after a quick shake, then you can toss it in the trash.

Your Polish Is Becoming Hard And Smells Unpleasant

As said earlier in the article, nail polish has stable compounds. However, nail polish is like paint, if it is not being used or stirred, it can thicken up and separate.

As it separates or thickens, the color changes or it smells bad. If that is the case, then you can throw it in the trash.

To see whether your varnish has gone wrong, have a look at the texture. The consistency will feel thick and clumpy.

Applying a smooth and even coat will be more difficult as opposed to the application of a newer texture.

In essence, the ingredients clumping together, becoming increasingly difficult to mix them.

This might explain why nail polish peels off so easily

Another factor to pay attention to is color. When you have stored your nail polish away for a long time, then the dyes in the varnish separates from the mixture, which results in a change in coloration. If you notice that the nail polish has a completely different color than when you bought it originally, then it is past its shelf life.

You should also observe the smell. If it has an unpleasant smell then it can be discarded.

how long does nail polish last on your nails

You Struggle To Open The Polish

If you have done everything you can to get the bottle to open, and you still struggle to remove the cap, then it might be time to let that nail polish go.

How To Tell If Your Gel Polish Has Gone Bad

Gel polishes are usually stored in an opaque bottle, which makes it difficult to discern the color and texture from just observing.

The best way to tell if a gel polish has passed its expiration date is its smell. The scent will be pungent and completely different from when you bought it.

If you are a fan of gel nail polish and find yourself wondering why does nail polish crack, you can read how to fix chipped gel nail polish.

It is also important to know the ins and outs of gel nail polish if you’re wondering ‘can I cut my nails with gel polish on them?’ or ‘Can I file my nails with gel polish?

How You Can Prolong The Polishes’ Lifespan

This section will shed some light on how to make nail polish last longer.

Store It Properly

There is only one foolproof way to preserve your nail polish.

If you store it properly, then your nail polish can last forever.

You should store it in a cool, dark spot that is out of direct sunlight. You do not need to store it in a fridge.

You must also wipe the bottle clean with acetone.

Use A Thinner 

If you want to know how to restore old nail polish, then you need to buy yourself a thinner. You can thin out the thickened nail polish with a nail polish thinner.

Be aware of using the thinner too often. It is advised not to use it more than twice, because the thinner will start to thin out the nail polish’s pigments.

Your nail polish can also reach a point of thickening that is insolvable.

The same happens with separated nail polish. It does not matter how hard you shake the bottle of polish; it will not mix properly.

If you make the mistake of putting hair dye in your nail polish then you may need to have a look at how to remove hair dye from nail polish.

There is also not much that you can do in the case of an unpleasant smell and changing of color. The changing of color or smells indicates that there is a chemical change going on in the product and you might be better off throwing it away.

With regards to changing color, you can also read how to keep white nail polish from turning yellow.

how long does nail polish stay on

Try To Reactivate The Formula

One of the best nail polish hacks is to shake and roll it between your hands. If it still separates then you can get rid of it.

A word of warning: If you shake the polish bottle for too long and too hard then it might cause bubbly nail polish.

The Takeaway

After reading this, you should have better insight into how long nail polish lasts on average and how you can spot any signs of it becoming non-usable.

The bottom line is that nail polish does not “expire” in the sense that they become spoiled or harmful when in use. They just become thick, gloopy, and dry, which makes them difficult to use.