These Are Signs That Your Nail Polish Is Expired

You've been there; just as soon as that first drop of nail polish pools on your nail, you can tell it is old. It's thick and sludgy, far from the slide-right-on consistency it should be. It's not the end of the world to grab a tissue, wipe away the puddle of polish, and start over with a new bottle. But it can be a messy annoyance, and there's always the chance that the polish could leave a stain on your nail. Are you wishing there were signs that would alert you to the fact that a bottle of nail polish is too old to be useful? If so, your wish has been granted.

There are, in fact, ways you can tell that nail polish is not only old, but expired (via Côte). And if you didn't know that nail polish can expire, don't feel embarrassed, you have plenty of company. Your false start has provided an opportunity for you to learn about the shelf life of nail polish, what happens if you decide to use it anyway, and the telltale signs that you're better off tossing a bottle, even if it's your all-time favorite color.

Open the bottle, start the countdown

It's too bad that a ticking sound doesn't begin the second you open a new bottle of nail polish. It should warn you that you have a limited amount of time to use it, because oxygen triggers some of the ingredients in the polish to evaporate, causing the formula to separate and then thicken (via Shape).

Nail polish is sold without expiration or sell-by dates like food products have. But bottles do include what's known as a "period after opening" number, more commonly known as a PAO. Many people consider the PAO an unofficial expiration date. Somewhere on the packaging or the bottle itself, the product's PAO will appear as a number followed by the letter "m," which stands for months (via Orly). If you can't find the PAO or it's too faded and you can't read it, a general rule of thumb may help: Regular nail polish should last from 18 to 24 months and gel polish can last from 24 to 36 months after the bottle has been opened.

Despite it being old, you may decide to use a bottle of polish anyway. If you do, understand that the quality of the polish will probably be inferior. It may be thick and difficult to maneuver as well as prone to peeling easily. The color could be faded, too (via Easy Nail Tech).

Heed the signs of old nail polish

Your senses should be on alert to assess whether a bottle of nail polish is too old to use. Even before you even pick up a bottle, you should be able to see if the color has changed or if the contents have separated, similar to how oil and vinegar separate in a bottle of salad dressing (via Côte). If this has happened, you should throw out the nail polish. If you're not sure, give the bottle a quick shake. The color should return to normal if it's still fresh.

If you remain skeptical, keep testing the signs. Try to open the bottle. A cap that's stuck and tacky is trying to tell you something: "It's time for us to part ways." If you conquer the bottle's resistance, you'll be able to gauge the surest sign of all: the smell of the polish. If it's foul and pungent — strangely different from nail polish — it's time to bid it goodbye (via Orly).

On the other hand, you may want to subject the polish to a final test of applying it. That's fine, but instead of brushing it on your nails, use a different surface, such as a popsicle stick or piece of cardboard. If the polish is thick and clumpy, you'll know with certainty that it belongs in the bin. And hopefully, a fresher, smoother product is just around the corner.