Your old polish bottles can be revived.

Can gel polish go bad? Yes, it can if it is subject to extreme temperatures or exposed to sunlight or left unused for a long time.

Gel polish is a mixture of various chemical liquids and is not permanently stable. It can go bad if any of these four things happen to it:

  1. Heat increases gel polish’s viscosity.
  2. Loosely closed caps.
  3. Precipitation causes gel polish components to separate.
  4. Exposing to light prematurely.

Let’s go into more detail on these factors and what you can do to keep your gel polish last longer.

High heat will make gel polish to thicken:

Extreme heat will cause the various liquids in gel polish to evaporate and what is left will be thicker. It is difficult to apply thick gel polish. Thick gel polish will not cure properly under UV light because the light can not go all the way through if the surface is already cured. This will cause wrinkles or bubbles. As a result, the gel polish will not last long on the nails.

To prevent: gel polish should be kept at cool room temperature. It is best to store gel polish in a cool place so heat will not be a factor to cause the liquid gel polish to evaporate. The great spot for your prized gel polish collection is in a closet that does not have walls adjacent to a heat source like a furnace or facing the sun. Also, try to put them closer to the ground since it is cooler there and if you accidentally drop them, it will be less chance for them to break and create a big mess.

Some people like to store their gel polish bottles in the refrigerator. This is okay if you have only a few. Over time, chances are you will build up your gel polish collection to more than a dozen. This may interfere with the more important purpose of your fridge: preserving food. So if you have more than a dozen, it is time to move them out of your fridge.

Another good place to store gel polish is the bottom shelf inside a cabinet under your bathroom sink. If you have a large collection of gel polish together with acetone, and alcohol, then this is a good location for them because all of them will create chemical vapors no matter how little. Home bathrooms are usually equipped with an exhaust fan so if there are any fumes, they can travel through the fan duct and get away from the house. Do store them in a plastic bin with a closed lid to protect them from humidity and changes in temperature.

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Caps are not closed tightly will cause gel polish to dry out:

If the cap does not close tightly, liquid components of gel polish will slowly dry out. This will eventually thicken gel polish to the point it is unusable.

To prevent: close cap tightly after each use. Practice polishing so to avoid gel polish from depositing on outside of the rim. If there is polish on the outside of the rim and inside the cap, they should be cleaned as soon as possible. Too much polish on the rim will prevent the cap from closing properly and will allow the liquids inside the bottle to gradually evaporate.

To clean outside of the rim, use a piece of lint-free paper tissue and fold it about three times. Pour some acetone to dampen it. Put this folded tissue on top of the rim and clean it with a twisting motion. Change the paper tissue often until the outside of the rim is cleaned completely.

To clean the inside of the cap, use several q-tips to remove as much gel polish as possible until it is almost clean. Next dip q-tips in acetone and try again until the cap is completely clean of gel polish.

Do store polish bottles right side up. This will help the gel polish stay off the rim and cap to ensure a tight close every time.

Precipitation causes gel polish components to separate:

Since gel polish is a mixture of different chemical liquids and it is not permanently stable. If it is not shaken once a while, these liquids with heavier density will precipitate will go down to the bottom and lighter ones will stay on top of the gel polish has not been used for a long period of time.

Also, some gel polishes do have solids like glitters or color pigments suspended in the polish. If the polish has not been shaken once a while, the solids will eventually settle to the bottom of the bottle due to gravity and they tend to stick to each other. If this happens, it will be very difficult to mix them up again with manual shaking.

In short, if left unused, gel polish components will separate, precipitate and change the polish’s characteristics.

To prevent: do use your gel polish regularly. If it is not the shade that you have not used very much, then maybe you can polish your mother’s, grandma’s, sister’s or friend’s nails if they like it. Not only you keep it from sitting unused for a long time and you make somebody happy. You can also practice your polishing skill on real nails. It is a win-win deal.

Exposing to light prematurely will cause gel polish to thicken:

Some UV light-sensitive components of the gel polish will react with UV light and change their properties prematurely if subject to light.

To prevent: put the cap on whenever you are not polishing. This helps preserve the gel polish and the little brush from becoming stiff with cured gel polish.

Do not place a gel polish bottle right in front of a UV gel lamp that has been turned on.

Do store gel polish bottles in a dark place.

More on how to keep your gel polish last longer:

Try to shake all of your gel polish collection every time you do your nails.

Do shake all your polish bottles once a while. If you can not shake them all every time you do your nails, then try to break them into two or more groups so you can have a manageable number of gel polish bottles to do at one time.

Thin gel polish if it gets too thick with gel polish thinner.

There is a product called gel polish thinner available at most beauty salon supply stores. If your gel polish gets too thick, adding a few drops of this gel polish thinner to the gel polish bottle and shake will help to thin the polish. Keep in mind that a few drops at a time will be sufficient.

If you must thin the gel polish, pure acetone can thin gel polish also. Pure acetone can be called a low-quality polish thinner so use it if you have no gel polish thinner.

Mixing two different colors to create a new one.

If you have two different color gel polish bottles that are half-full or less and you don’t want to use those old colors anymore, you can create a new color gel polish by combining them. You should test first to see if you like the combined color.

To do this, first put a little bit of the two colors on a piece of paper and mix them together with a toothpick, squab, or something similar.

If you like the result then start to pour gel polish from one bottle to the other. Do this slowly and gradually to prevent the polish from going too fast and flowing over. Stir gel polish with a long bamboo skewer or something similar to premix for one minute, then close the cap tightly and shake for another minute. Test the combined color on a piece of paper for completeness.

If it is still not the result you like, either shake it one more minute or add a few more drops of the polish from the other color and repeat shaking until you like the new combined color.

Regular polish bottles usually have a little stainless steel ball to help in mixing. It helps to mix the polish as it swirls around inside when the bottle is shaken. I always save these little balls from these bottles when I decide to throw them out. To retrieve them, I empty the polish on a piece of paper then pick the ball out of the polish. I then clean it with polish remover and put it in a small zip lock bag for future use. If you already have them saved, adding one or two in the gel polish bottle will help reducing shaking time.

If you do not have these stainless steel balls, do not worry. You just have to shake the gel polish bottle a little longer.

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To prolong the life of your gel polish collection:

  1. Store your gel polish collection in a cool, dark place.
  2. Put the cap back in the bottle if you are not polishing.
  3. Shake each gel polish bottle once a while.
  4. Keep caps on tight.
  5. Avoid getting gel polish outside of the rim and inside of the cap. If you do, clean it as soon as possible.

Can gel polish expire?

Gel polishes like regular polishes do not expire but they usually have best-before-dates printed on the bottles. The chemicals components that make the gel polishes do not disintegrate. They just become unusable if they are subject to extreme temperatures or exposed to sunlight or left unused for a long time.

Are old gel polishes dangerous?

The chemicals components that make the gel polishes do not interact with each other to create a new harmful product. So it is safe for you to use old gel polish on your nails as long as it is still in good conditions


Gel polish is a great product and can be expensive if you want to build a personal collection. Granted that you will have several favorite colors. Nothing is more frustrated than when you are ready to polish your nails with one of your favorite ones only to find out that it is bad and unusable. By excising these good practices will make your collection of gel polish last much longer.

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