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Does nail polish go bad?

Patricia’s puzzled about polish: Does nail polish go bad or can it become contaminated? For example, you paint your nails once or twice and then don’t use it for a couple of years because you misplaced it, is it still safe?

The Right Brain nails the right answer:

If you’re looking for an excuse to splurge on a new bottle of OPI, we could tell you that you have to throw your old nail polish away after 6 months because it’ll spoil like a bottle milk on a hot summer day. But if you want to know the truth, we have to tell you that nail polish doesn’t really go bad.


Unlike water based cosmetics which are breeding grounds for bacteria, nail polish is pretty much self-preserving because of all the solvents it contains. (Not much grows in a ethyl acetate cocktail!) Just look at the major ingredients in an OPI nail polish: Butyl Acetate, Toluene, Nitrocellulose, Ethyl Acetate, Tosylamide/Formaldehyde Resin, Dibutyl Phthalate, and Isopropyl Alcohol. Nothing’s gonna grow in THAT chemical cocktail. You could say that nail polish is preservative free!

Dry Solvent evaporation

Of course just because it won’t grow bacteria doesn’t mean it can’t dry out. If you didn’t screw the cap on nice and tight before you lost the bottle two years ago, you can pretty much kiss your polish goodbye. Because those same solvents that won’t grow bugs will do something else: evaporate! And once nail polish dries out there’s not much that can be done to save it.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

While your polish may dry out quickly if you leave the cap off, you don’t have much to fear in terms of it spoiling because of old age. In fact, scientists predict that Hostess Twinkies and OPI nail polish will be the only things to survive a nuclear explosion. Oh wait a minute, that’s cockroaches. Well, never mind, you get the idea. And if you’re wondering about your other beauty products you might want to read our previous post on 4 Ways To Tell If Your Cosmetic Has Expired.

PS If you’re losing bottles of nail polish for years at a time, it sounds like you need a good makeup case!

What do YOU think? What’s the longest you’ve ever held on to a bottle of nail polish? Leave a comment and share your tawdry secrets with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Karren November 26, 2015, 8:29 am

    I still have nail polish from 20 years ago…thanks for the info.

    • Jsears March 29, 2018, 6:22 pm

      Oldest polish I have is 5 yes, but some polish I use don’t sty on the for maybe 1-2 days. Newer polish stays on for 1week. Why is that?

  • Peggy February 22, 2017, 8:05 am

    Thanks for your information. Just for some of your reference about the updated brand comparison: http://100review.com/best-10-nail-polish-review/

  • Allura April 29, 2020, 6:26 pm

    I have nail polish from 18 years ago. Haven’t used it in a long time, but we recently moved and I found it! Couldn’t believe I still have it! I have used polish only a few years old and it bubbles like crazy. Nail polish is usually bad for you even when it is fresh, so good to know it doesn’t become MORE harmful with age. I just can’t stand when it starts making tiny bubbles all over the nail. What a waste of time perfectly polishing my nails! Makes me sad…