What Happens If You Use Expired Nail Polish?

If you can’t get enough of nail polish trends and add every hot new shade to your ever-growing stash, some of your polishes have likely expired. Perhaps you’re tempted to use one of your old favorites, but you’re worried something bad will happen if you paint your nails with polish past its expiry date. What will happen?

What Happens If You Use Expired Nail Polish?

Expired nail polish that shows no signs of spoilage is generally effective and safe to use. In contrast, expired nail polish that’s visibly spoiled is difficult to use, produces inferior results, and is at greater risk of contamination by harmful microorganisms.

When you paint your nails with expired polish, you’ll either get no unusual effects or a really bad mani, depending on whether the polish has changed since expiring. Read on to get the warning signs that an expired polish belongs in the bin, and find out the worst that can happen if you use it on your nails instead.

Expired Nail Polish Can Be Usable

Some nail polish formulations are still effective and safe to use even after their recorded expiry date.

The chance a polish will stay good to use past its expiry date increases if it has been stored and used correctly (more about this later).  

You’ll know you can use a polish past its expiry date if it doesn’t show any signs of spoilage.

These are the big 3 signs that warn that expired nail polishes’ quality has dropped:

  • A color change: Look for nudes that have yellowed or brights that aren’t as vibrant.
  • A different smell: Watch out for new odors.
  • A new texture: Check for a thicker, thinner, gloopy, or sticky consistency. Also, be on the lookout for separation.

Expired Nail Polish Can Be Ineffective

Suppose your expired nail polish’s color, smell, or texture has changed. In this case, the polish’s chemical makeup has likely changed, too, stopping it from working as it should.

Gel nail polishes contain resins, solvents, dispersants, stabilizers, inhibitors, pigments, and photoinitiators. These ingredients give the polish its consistent color, shine, staying power, and smoothness. But they don’t do their job well in polishes showing signs they’ve had it. The further a polish goes past its expiry date, the more it deteriorates.

Here are some of the unwanted qualities you’ll get when you use a gel nail polish that shows signs it’s spoiled:

  • Doesn’t go on smoothly and evenly.
  • Lacks shine.
  • Discolors easily.
  • Peels or cracks within days.
  • Doesn’t cure properly.
  • It Hardens in its container.
  • Resists sticking to the base coat.

So, visibly expired nail polish creates disappointing results and is frustrating to use.

Expired Nail Polish Can Be Risky

A common worry with expired beauty products is bacterial and fungal contamination. Harmful microorganisms easily sneak into makeup like mascara. But it’s unlikely they’ll invade your nail polish, as bacteria and fungi don’t find nail polish an inviting home. Even if they found their way in, they’d be destroyed by nail polish chemicals.

That said, expired nail polish showing signs it’s spoilt is more vulnerable to a bacterial or fungal attack than fresh nail polish. Expired nail polish loses some of its antimicrobial potency as its bacteria- and fungi-killing ingredients evaporate with regular use.

Using expired nail polish on nails with an existing bacterial or fungal infection increases the risk that the polish will become contaminated and able to spread disease-causing microorganisms.

When Does Nail Polish Expire?

Properly stored unopened gel nail polish stays fresh for several years, and opened gel nail polish generally lasts about 2 years. 

Individual nail polish formulations have different expiry dates. Check your polish’s container and box for its shelf life and the period it stays fresh after opening.

Look for these 2 dates:

  • The expiry date for the unopened polish. Some manufacturers print a month and year on the polish’s container or box. This date indicates the latest a polish will stay at its best.
  • The period a polish stays fresh after it’s opened. This date is written as a number inside a picture of a pot with an open lid. The number indicates the months an opened polish will stay good to use. Write the date you open the polish on its container (use masking tape and a marker), so you can track how much time you’ve got to use the polish before it spoils.

How To Make Nail Polish Last Longer

How you store and use your gel nail polish can speed up or slow its expiry.

Here’s a checklist to keep gel nail polish fresher for longer:

  • Store in a cool, dry spot.
  • Protect from direct sunlight, UV or LED light, and extreme heat.
  • Avoid exposure to temperature fluctuations.
  • Keep upright in the original container.
  • Limit how often you open the polish and close it tightly as soon as you’re done.

How To Dispose Of Expired Nail Polish

Expired nail polish that doesn’t look, smell, or work like it did when it was fresh won’t glide on and create flawless results that last, and it might even expose you to nasty microorganisms. So, toss it!

But don’t just pour it down the drain or throw it in the bin with the rest of your trash. Nail polish ingredients can make their way from your drain to the ocean or from your bin to landmines and into the soil, where they cause trouble for the environment. Plus, nail polish ingredients are flammable and can be a fire risk if not handled with care.

You must check your nail polish manufacturer’s instructions and chat with your local municipality to find the safe, earth-friendly way to dispose of your expired polish.


You shouldn’t experience adverse effects from using expired nail polish that still looks, smells, and feels like it did on the day you bought it. However, expired polish that’s changed its color, smell, or texture as it’s aged won’t work right and might be germy. You’ll likely struggle to use this polish and get clumpy, messy results that don’t last.