Look through a modern woman's nail polish collection, and you may find at least one of the following: half-empty bottles, at least 20 bottles of different shades of nude (because we need the beiges and blushes in our rotation!) and ones with truly scandalous names such as My Silicone Popped or Cougar Attack (both totally real).

While you may want to toss out those bottles from the '90s that your mother passed down to you, before you think it all has to go—including nail polish from one to two years ago—think again, as we provide the exact shelf life of nail polish and simple tips and tricks for transforming old bottles into something new and totally fabulous.

What is the shelf life of nail polish?

When it comes to our makeup, such as mascara or eyeliner, we tend to go through those more quickly than nail polish, which gets used more infrequently and has a longer lifespan if we treat it right. The typical shelf life of nail polish is two years. This is for opened bottles. Unopened bottles, on the other hand, can last indefinitely.

Don't know where to check for the expiry date on the bottle? Typically, you can find it on the label, with the number of months that it will last listed there. However, it all depends on the brand and packaging.

Here's what to look for to check if your nail polish has gone bad: The nail polish has separated in the bottle and won't blend, even with a good shake; there is a crumbly residue under the cap of the polish, making it difficult to twist and open; or the polish is goopy, thick, and hard to spread on the nail. If you encounter any of these issues, toss it. There's plenty more nail polish where that came from.

Tips to fix old nail polish

We may have that one color of polish that we just can't for the life of us let go. Or, maybe it was a costly splurge that we can't justify tossing just yet. The good news? You might not have to—at least, hopefully not with these tips on reviving old bottles of polish.

  1. Use nail polish thinner: This is a common and simple tip for adding extra oomph to your polish. Simply add two to three drops of nail lacquer thinner to your polish and rub the bottle between your hands. Avoid shaking the bottle, as this only causes more bubbles of air, which diminish the quality of your polish.

  2. Rinse out the brush: This tip comes from Miss Pop, a New York City-based manicurist. She recommends grabbing a drinking glass that you can part with and filling it with acetone. Swirl the brush around in the acetone, and clumps of dried-up nail polish should fall off. Use a paper towel—not a cotton ball, unless you want wispy bits everywhere—to remove any remaining pieces. That's it! When you go to use it in your bottle again, the acetone will mix and thin out the polish, making it easier to use. 

Above all else, taking proper care of your polish will help keep it in tip-top shape. This includes making sure to tightly close the lids, storing them in a cool and dark space, and storing the bottles upright. Someone's got to keep that bottle of Cougar Attack alive, so don't let your nail polish down! After all, they are little strokes of beauty that help us feel a little more polished.

About the Author

Sarah Kester

Sarah is a writer, editor and cat mom. Lover of wine, rom-coms, and all things self-care, she’s inspired by mindfulness and helping others feel balanced in their lives through meditation, self-love and self-care. After all, what's balance without Saturday morning yoga and green juice and a glass of rosé later that evening? She has written for The Greatest, Elite Daily, YourTango, Vital Proteins, among others. To learn more, you can find her at her website sarahkester.com.