How Long Does Nail Polish Last?

Getting a new manicure or pedicure is one of your favorite things in the world. You’re free to choose the color and shape of your nails, and you love the feel of being pampered even if it’s just for a short time. But there have been instances when your nail polish chipped off after a few days. 

Painting over the chipped part with the same color you have at home seems to be a good idea, but somehow the two shades don’t match at all. We understand that it can be frustrating, especially if the manicure was a bit pricier than you’re used to. You’re also left wondering if chipping is normal after just a couple of days after your manicure. 

So, we’re here to demystify the lifespan of nail polishes—whether it is still inside a bottle or on your fingernails or toes (clue: it’s very short and depends on what you’re doing with your hands). We’re also going to discuss the super popular gel nail polishes, how long they last, and if they’re better than traditional nail polishes. Let’s get started.

how long does nail polish last

Nail Polish Lifespan: It’s All in the Ingredients

But before we do that, let’s see what’s inside your typical nail polish.

The idea of painting one’s fingernails has been around for thousands of years. According to historical records, ancient people knew how to use nail color. The ancient Egyptians, for example, painted their nails with henna. The ancient Chinese also used nail color, but the ingredients were a bit more complex than the ones used by the Egyptians. They used gelatin, egg whites, beeswax, vegetable dye, and gum arabic and applied the mixture on their fingernails.

The ingredients of today’s nail polish are much more complicated.  

Pigments give the nail polish its color, but the ingredient that makes it stick to the nail bed is adhesive polymer resins. Apart from adhesion, resins give nail polish its gloss and ensure that your nail polish will not chip away easily.

Solvents are another nail polish important ingredient. They have a weird odor, but they ensure that the coat dries quickly. Nitrocellulose ensures that the nail polish forms into a thin and hard film, while plasticizers are added to ensure that the film doesn’t crack easily. Other ingredients include thickeners and ultraviolet blockers to prevent discoloration.

The ingredients that will play a large part in our discussion are adhesive polymer resins and plasticizers.

How Long Does Nail Polish Last on Your Fingernails?

The typical crème nail polish you can purchase at the drugstore or department store only stays intact for a couple of days before you finally see those tiny chips and cracks. Its strength and adhesion largely depend on what you’re doing during the day (whether you’re scrubbing the bathtub and bathroom floors or simply typing away on your computer all day). The quality of the nail polish ingredients is also going to affect its strength, as well as whether your technician has prepped the nails properly or not.

How Long Does Nail Polish Last on Your Toes?

Nail polish on toenails typically lasts up to two or three weeks before you see it flaking off. It’s kind of surprising, but that’s because we use our hands more often than our feet. We use our hands to prepare meals and scrub stains off our favorite blouse, so they are often exposed to water and therefore, more prone to chipping.

We use our nails to scratch our skin, pry a stubborn sticker label off a book, or pull the tab on a soda can, leading to chips and cracks in our manicures. Our feet, on the other hand, just stay inside our shoes for most of the day. Plus, they are rarely exposed to water except when we shower or take a bath.

What About Gel Nail Polish?

Gel nail polish contains methacrylate compounds that ensure strength and longevity. Unlike traditional crème nail polish, it has superb adhesion and doesn’t chip or crack easily. This type of nail polish typically lasts anywhere between two and three weeks before chipping or cracking.

Time to Throw it Away?

Just like any cosmetic product, nail polishes have a shelf life. A bottle of nail polish can be used up to 24 months after you have opened it, but feel free to use it if it still looks good or if it doesn’t smell funky.

You can also check the label to see if the manufacturer added a ‘period after opening’ information. This information contains a number, as well as the letter M which stands for ‘month.’ For example, ’24M’ means that you only have 24 months from opening the bottle to use its contents.

After that, go ahead and chuck it into the wastebasket. An easy way to make sure that the nail polish is still within its shelf life is by putting a sticker on the bottle and writing the exact date when you first opened it.

You don’t have to throw away a perfectly good nail polish (especially if it has a nice color) just because its components have separated. Just shake the bottle gently with one hand to reinvigorate it. If the components still do not mix, then it’s time to get a new one.

Signs That it’s Time to Throw Away that Nail Polish

Fortunately, it’s easy to tell if a bottle of nail polish has gone bad. Expired nail polish looks gloopy or stringy, and it tends to leave a mess when you apply it because it has become so thick or so thin. Discolored nail polishes and those that have developed a strange smell should also be discarded (no matter how expensive they are).

Extending the Shelf Life of Your Nail Polish

The good news is nail polish is one of those cosmetic products that have a long shelf life. It is also easy to store so it doesn’t go bad after a couple of months. One of the things you can do is to store it in a dry and dark place like your drawer or cabinet. 

Don’t leave it near a window or anywhere sunlight can reach it as the heat can affect its consistency later on. Can you use the refrigerator to store your nail polish? Yes, but placing it inside the fridge doesn’t really extend its shelf life. Your cabinet or drawer will do.

There you have it, the typical lifespan of regular and gel nail polish. Be sure to check out our other blog posts to learn more about nail polish and nail care.

Scroll to Top