Can Nail Polish Go Bad When Unopened? (Checked)

You probably have bottles of nail polish collected over the years. Perhaps you keep purchasing the latest colors and formulas, or they were given as gifts.

If you’re thinking of popping one open, you might wonder if it’s safe to use it after so much time has passed. We’ve checked if unopened nail polish can go bad.

Here’s If Unopened Nail Polish Goes Bad

Unopened nail polish can remain usable for a very long time. Some nail polish brands advise a two-year limit. Other sources say unopened nail polish can last from five to eight years. Others believe an unopened nail polish lasts indefinitely.

How Long Does Unopened Nail Polish Last?

According to Annette Soboleski, an OPI nail technician, unopened nail polish bottles should last indefinitely.

However, the OPI FAQ page advises that an unopened bottle of OPI nail polish should have a shelf-life of thirty-six (36) months. offers their rule of thumb: an unopened and securely stored varnish lasts 18 to 24 months, and a gel nail polish lasts 24 to 36 months.

Other internet sources say unopened nail polish bottles last five to eight years.

Can Unopened Nail Polish Go Bad?

In general, cosmetics will break down and degrade with time. That is true for nail polish as well.

The FDA lists several reasons why a cosmetic will go bad:

  • Each time an applicator is used on your body, it gets exposed to bacteria and fungi. The applicator will then transfer those germs to your nail polish.
  • If fingers are dipped directly into the nail polish, that’s another port of entry for germs into the whole bottle. This is a perfect setup for some breakdown to take place.
  • Sharing cosmetics (nail polish included) is another way to introduce germs into your nail polish.
  • Over time, a nail polish bottle’s preservatives will break down. That will make other germ growth more likely.
  • Some kinds of mixtures will separate with time, while others will dry out, harden and crack.
  • If exposed to sunlight, air, and temperature changes, some cosmetics can develop changes in color, texture, and smell.

This list provided by the FDA specifically relates to cosmetics that are open and have been used. If your nail polish bottle is never opened, the chances of these conditions being fulfilled are zero.

The nail polish may separate after standing for so long, but a little shake to mix it will get back the original consistency.

Does Nail Polish Have an Expiration Date?

Nail polish lacquers do not have a shelf-life mandated by the Federal Drug Administration and FDA. That means any expiration information is left up to nail polish manufacturers.

That is why manufacturers use the Period After Opening (PAO) system.

The Period After Opening is when a product remains suitable for use after its primary container has been opened. You will see the PAO symbol on various cosmetic items as a circular tub with the cover off.

This tub is known as a cosmetics pot. Written on this symbol will be a code consisting of a number and a capital letter.

For example, the PAO of Zoya Cana is 24 months. However, the PAO of Zoya Charlize is 36 months. This means that these products are not tested and approved as safe for use beyond 2 and 3 years (respectively) from the date they are first opened.

Another popular nail polish brand, Essie, recommends on their blog that you should replace their opened bottles of nail polish after 12 months of use.

They do, however, admit that you can extend the useful time of their nail polishes to 2 years with proper care.

Can Old, Unopened Nail Polish Be Toxic?

In the context of nail polish, some ingredients have become notorious for their toxicity. They are commonly called the Big Three or the Toxic Trio.

What is the Toxic Trio?

The three chemicals that make up the Toxic Trio are:

  1. Formaldehyde – is used as a part of some nail polishes as hardening agents. They are known carcinogens, which means they can cause cancers, specifically lung and nasal cancers.
  2. Toluene – is used in nail polishes to keep the texture smooth even after it’s applied. Toluene has been banned in the European Union due to its toxic effects on the nervous system and its association with hereditary disabilities and developmental problems in children.
  3. Dibutyl phthalate – makes nail polish less likely to crack by improving its flexibility. It is also banned in the EU because of its association with reproductive problems.

There are many more nail polish ingredients that are considered harmful. Some nail polish brands market themselves as being 8-free and even 17-free, suggesting that many more potentially harmful chemicals can be found in nail polish formulations.

This means that old, unopened nail polish may already be toxic due to the components used to manufacture it from the beginning. When a nail polish bottle is kept sealed and stored in a cool, dark area, its chemicals are less likely to degrade and retain their original toxicity.

It is a fact that every chemical has a half-life. That means the longer it sits, the less potent it may become, but in the case of nail polish, that could be a very long time – some users share in online forums that their nail polish is still fine after 20 years!

So an old, unopened nail polish may not develop new toxicity; it may just be as toxic as when it was first formulated.

Should You Throw Out Bad Nail Polish?You might have to consider the next best step whenn an opened nail polish bottle is not used up before its PAO datp.

If the PAO has passed, you might still find your nail polish usable if you had stored it well. If there are signs that it has truly done bad, then it is time to stop using it.

You can tell if your nail polish has passed its time of usefulness by making some key observations:

  • Even after shaking the bottle or applying nail polish thinner, the nail polish still separates and is lumpy when applied.
  • The nail polish has become discolored and may also have an unpleasant smell.

Once you have determined that your nail polish has gone bad, it is time to discard it. Sadly, many nail polish bottles are not recyclable even after they have been rinsed with acetone and dried.

That’s because nail polish is a household hazardous waste and may not be accepted by some recycling centers. To ensure this, call your local recycling facility and find out if nail polish is accepted and at what cost.

To dispose of bad nail polish at home, pour out the nail polish on a newspaper, let it dry, and then add it to your regular trash. You should also remove the bottle cover to allow the remaining contents to dry out.

Once dry, you can also add it to your regular trash. From there, you will take your old nail polish and its bottle to a dump, landfill, or for incineration.

Final Thoughts

Thinking about using old nail polish will require knowledge of its PAO, as well as inspection of the nail polish. If you have a large amount of nail polish that’s still good, try donating them so someone else can enjoy them before they go bad.


An Overview of the Period After Opening and Cosmetic Shelf-life

Can You Recycle Nail Polish Bottles?

Nail Polish Ingredients: Avoiding the “Toxic Trio”

Shelf-life and Expiration Dating of Cosmetics

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