Sunday, April 3, 2011

Does Nail Polish Expire or Go Bad?

The infinite question. Does nail polish actually expire? What does "expire" mean? When it "expires", should you throw it away? I want to discuss some common misconceptions about expiration of nail polish, if or when it needs to be thrown out, and why products might expire.

What does "expire" mean?

Dictionary definition - "To come to an end; terminate" (source)

In regards to cosmetics?

FDA definition - In summary, they say that there are no actual requirements in the US for cosmetic expiration's, however the concern is bacterial growth. (source)

European Commission definition - They have something called "Period of Time After Opening". You can find this symbol on the packaging of the cosmetic. Here are some on different polishes:

Top Left - China Glaze Crackle Glaze in Lightning Bolt
Top Right - OPI Italian Love Affair
Bottom Left - Orly Royal Navy
Bottom Right - Zoya Veruschka

"The period of time after opening informs consumers of the authorised period of time a product may be used after opening without any harm to the consumer." This became mandatory in March of 2005, so you might have older polishes that do not have a PAO. You can read more about PAOs here.

Well that explains that cosmetics in general expire, but what about nail polish?

I contacted OPI about this because OPI is the most widely known nail polish brand. I got an absolutely AMAZING response:

"Hi Samantha

The Period-After-Opening number is required for most cosmetics by the European Union (EU), but it is rather meaningless for nail lacquer. Nail lacquer does not go "bad" with bacteria after opening (or ever), because the solvents are chemically hostile to microbes. Indeed, research shows clearly that microbes don't survive in nail lacquer, whether in a salon environment or even if deliberately contaminated in a laboratory test.

For most other cosmetic products, such as skin lotions or hand creams, the preservatives eventually get used up, especially with repeated opening and closing , and bacteria can then colonize them and start to grow. So the PAO makes sense for these products. I don't think they had nail polish in mind when they wrote the rule.

So.....Why 24 months PAO for nail lacquer? Because the EU is distrustful of larger numbers. In reality, nail lacquer should stay safe forever. It might not be any good after many years -- due to slow color changes or if it evaporates to a solid, useless block -- but it won't be unsafe. And as you know, the PAO number is about how long, after opening, is the product SAFE ("no harm to the consumer"), not about whether it will work properly!

Is this what you wanted to know?

Paul Bryson, Ph.D.
Director of Research & Development, OPI Products Inc.,"

Well that should clear a bunch of stuff up.

But what if the polish does "evaporate to a solid, useless block" (this is my favorite thing he wrote)? Or what if it gets thick and goopey? What should you do? Can it be saved?

Absolutely it can be saved!! Polish starts to harden or become thicker because of volatile ingredients in the polish that may eventually evaporate. All you have to do is replace to ingredients.

What should you use?

Definitely NOT nail polish remover!! Remover is too harsh to add directly to your polish. It may last a little while, but you're potentially doing significant, irreversible damage to your polish. Don't believe me? I highly suggest reading this blog post by Lacquer Laine. I'm not going to experiment on my own polish with remover, but she, unfortunately, did.
What you actually want to use is nail polish THINNER!! Yes. Thinner. They sell nail polish thinner specifically for this purpose. It's super cheap, lasts an awesome amount of time. I still haven't come close to going through an entire bottle. I bought mine at Sally's and it's by Beauty Secrets. You can buy it online here, or find it in the store.

Here's a post that shows how amazing thinner really is.

What your polish is separated?

Just shake it. It will be fine, it hasn't "gone bad". And if it's thick, add thinner. And yes, it is absolutely FINE to shake your polish. Yes, it creates bubbles, but those bubbles will go away. If you plan on applying polish immediately, then just roll it between your hands to avoid the bubbles. But for the purpose of adding thinner, shake the crap outta the polish.

So there you have it. No more throwing out old polishes. No more ruining polishes by adding remover. No more rebuying of your favorite polish because it's been 36 months since you opened it. And if you still don't believe me, I would be glad to take that "expired" polish off your hands. ;)


  1. hey
    thanks for the link to this

    the opi person must know what he is talking about lol

    im a klutz when it comes to DIY tho... i duno.. haha

  2. This post changed my nail polish life!

  3. I'm so glad this has helped!! No more ruined polish or throwing away polish!!

  4. Yay! Now I don't feel bad having this ummm, obsession with nail polish lately! Now I feel like buying more! Yikes!

  5. Yeap...all is 100% scientifically correct. I have worked for over 35 years as a biologic clinical chemist who has been addicted to polish that entire time and all the way back to 7th grade. I used to pain my nails ever night before bed while in high school! Ah to have all that time we had and energy then! And yes, thinners last forever. They should have a dropper on them because you do need to add it sparingly and keep checking to see how thin you got it - don't dump a ton in. It's got to be a slow process so you do reach the point of over do...if it does end up a bit thin...leave it out over night with the lid off. Chances are, it will have thickened up just enough.

  6. THANK U SO VERY MUCH... Now we can use our fav. nail colors for so long as end...

  7. I'm so impressed that you made the effort to contact OPI to get an answer to this question. I've searched and searched, and this is the only definitive information I've found. I'm so happy to finally know, and relieved that I can still use my years-old polish! I am both a germ-o-phobe and a serious rat pack, so while I couldn't throw them away, I couldn't bring myself to use them either. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Thank you so much!

    And thanks to beachgal, the chemist, for confirming your info and even adding more explanation. That helped me so much to completely cast off any tiny doubts that may have been hanging on. It's great to now feel free to use any and all my different and loved nail polishes! nancie

    1. "I am both a germ-o-phobe and a serious rat pack, so while I couldn't throw them away, I couldn't bring myself to use them either." LOL! You sound like me!

  8. Thank you so much! I love nail polish but feel guilty buying so many thinking it will expire. I also like to display it but was afraid it might expire faster being exposed to the light but now I can display my collection thanks to you!!!!

  9. Mr nail polish user here. I am a pianist and my nails take abuse. I use a base coat or two of clear, and then a top coat of matte clear. My nails look great (natural, for a guy) and it protects my nails from splitting. HOWEVER...the reason I came to your forum was to find out if CLEAR POLISHES (after time) will "yellow" faster after application. Will a coat of clear polish from a 4 year old bottle "yellow" on nails faster than a coat from a new bottle? Thank you, and best of all.

  10. Thank you so much for all the information, this is the most informative site I have found in all my search. I have nail polishes I have opened and used once and could not bring myself to throw them away. I am so glad I did not.

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  12. *virtual high five* I'm following your blog b/c of the obvious effort you put into this post.

    Check out pinkgadgets:

  13. By chance do you have a Facebook page of your nail art?

  14. I bought 2 Zoya bottles 3 months ago and then I got a job in a hospital as a nurse so I was pretty sad since I thought I had to give it away since I can't use them and they might expire. Thanks to this blog, now I can keep them for as long as I want! More power to you :) great job for asking the right people!

  15. Mmmmm..... dat nailpolish. I am so glad that you made this page! Now I don't have to worry about drinking off nailpolish <3

  16. i know you say it's ok to use old nail polish but, i have a kinda different question....

    you see, i have sort of an obsession with old/vintage nail polish bottles from like the 1940's, 1950's, 1960's, & 1970's (cutex, revlon, hazel bishop, lanolin plus color plus, max factor, loreal, etc....). i LOVE the shape of the old nail polish bottles with the long white lids/caps. so, i'm also a collector.

    although some of the polishes have thickened up in some of these bottles, i have used thinner to thin them out. but the ones that are still liquid thin enough to use, i do use them (guilty as charged), the thing is, that they have a very strong chemical smell to them. i mean even after the nail polish is dry, my fingernails smell like chemicals, because of the old/vintage nail polish on them.

    do you think it's ok or safe to use nail polish from the 1950's & 1960's if they are still in liquid form? or are the chemicals to strong for nails & causing damage, do you know?

    another question, in the "olden days" (back in the 1950's & 1960's) did nail polish smell strong of chemicals even when it was dry on the nails? would love to hear from someone who used to use nail polish back then.

    thank you & sorry for the long post.
    and thanks for posting this blog, very interesting. :o) <3

    1. I searched my issue and google brought me here. I believe you are right, nail polish doesn't expire but it has strange chemical reactions after a while. I have two shimmery pink polishes that are older - say, 2003 or 2004? They are thin and can be used just fine, but when they dry there is a god awful odor to my nails, I can't put my hands up to my face because the smell is just nauseating. So I disagree about expiration dates. It might not be harmful, but something chemically does happen to the polish over time making it an unpleasant experience.

    2. Hello!

      That horrible smell you're getting from your older polish is probably chemicals that most companies are trying to avoid nowadays. Have you heard the terms "3 Free", "4 Free", and "5 Free"? Those are referring to chemicals in nail polish (formaldehyde, DBP, toluene, camphor, and formaldehyde resin). Toluene is usually the most offensive smelling one out of that 5, as far as I believe.

      So if you're comparing the smell of your old polish to your new polish, it's not that it's gone bad, it's just that it has those horribly strong, pungent, and controversial ingredients still in it!

      Hope that helps =)

  17. This is the best news ever! I have so many bottles of nail polish that should be past there prime. Now I don't have to worry about it. Thanks for the info!

  18. love the post but i still have a question.... i found a bottle of O.P.I natural nail base coat in a huge bad of nail polish a friend left at my house but its like every time i use it in like a day sometimes 2 it can peels off and i dont mean it chips i mean all the polish comes off in one solid layer it does it with any nail polish i use from a bottle of polish i found in the same bag to a brand new bottle of O.P.I lacquer i bought a few days ago i dont understand why its been doing that and i wanted to know if there is something i can do to fix it or do i just need to go buy a new bottle???

  19. This post helped me a lot. Thank you so much for sharing this! :)

  20. Thanks for the information..........I am a big nail paint freak and was worried about the expiration date of them.........but now I am relaxed........I can use my nail paints for as long as I want:-)

  21. Thank you for sharing us to buy nail polish product at online. This post really help me a lot.

    Cheap Nail Polish & Wholesale Beauty Supplies

  22. Fabulous cosmetics product, I use my eye liner everyday with wet eyes!!! This post really help me a lot.

    Cheap nail polish & buy lipstick

    1. Thanks for info I found a box of Opi, Zoya, Charni, Revlon, Avon color last and many many more that I've had since I was in Wilfred Academy and my son was 2 years old, he just turned 26 years old. Some just separated and a shake did the job. Others were a bit thick but I have nail polish thinner(a must have). I am totally obsessed with nail polish having several hundred bottles. Good to know I can keep them indefinitely. This makes me sooooo happy.

  23. Thanks so much for the useful info!

  24. thank you so much for the info ...

  25. I have several thousand polishes and gave been telling people for years exactly what you summed up in your article. Thanks to OPI for confirming. Thanks to you for taking the time =)

  26. Thank you, very useful article for me