How to Improve the Shelf Life of Gel Nail Polish - how to improve the shelf life of gel polishDid you know that most gel polish only has a recommended shelf life of 12-36 months after it’s first opened? Yikes! I don’t know about you, but I’ve invested a LOT of money in my gel polish collection and I’ll do everything I can to make them last as long as possible.

shelf-life-symbolFirst, do you know how to determine what the shelf life of your polish is? Most companies print it right on the label. Look for a little symbol of an open container… it will say something like 12m, 24m or 36m inside of the container. That’s the manufacturer’s recommendation regarding how long the product should be used once it’s been opened. I took a peek through my gel polish stash and found varying info on the bottles.  Here’s a sampling of what I found:

  • LeChat, Pink Gellac – 12 months
  • Gelish, Gelish MINI, RCM – 18 months
  • ibd, Gelaze, ProGel – 24 months
  • Kiara Sky, INK, Couture – 36 months
  • and some are non-existent or so small they’re impossible to read!

I try not to worry too much about the shelf life though.  I’ve had many of the polishes in my collection for several years and they’re still usable because I care for them properly.  Here are some helpful tips on how to care for your gel polishes to help extend their usable life.


Gel polish bottles should be stored away from exposure to natural sunlight.  Don’t leave them sitting out in front of a window or in a bright room that gets a lot of light.  Ideally they should be stored somewhere dark like in a closet, box or drawer.  I personally like to see my polishes so I have them prominently displayed on shelves, but they’re in a room on the back of my house that gets very little light.  I usually have the blinds drawn in that room as well and the wall that my polishes are on never gets direct sunlight.

UV light is what causes gel polishes to cure/harden.  Most gel polish bottles are opaque, but some may allow small amounts of light in which will ruin your polish over time.  Gelish, for example, has the tiny little window that allows you to see the color (horrible design if you ask me).  And some bottles are heavily tinted, but don’t block 100% of the light.

You should also avoid storing your polishes in locations that are exposed to extreme temperatures, hot or cold.  An even, mild temperature is best.  I’ve heard some people say they store their polish in the refrigerator.  I can’t personally vouch for that though… if I put my polish in the fridge, there wouldn’t be any room for food.  :)

Also be sure to close your bottles properly after using them.  Clean any excess polish off of the neck of the bottle with a lint-free wipe or cloth and some alcohol to ensure a tight seal.


robart-paint-shakerWhen polishes sit for a long period of time the ingredients can start to separate.  It’s a good idea to shake them up once in a while.  I used to hand-shake my bottles, but I’ve been spoiled since buying my Robart Shaker.  I always give my polishes a good shake before using them, and sometimes I just randomly shake polishes that I know have been sitting for too long.

Shaking helps improve the consistency of your polish.  It prevents them from thickening, and it also helps with things like the opacity and shrinkage when applying.  A well shaken polish will always apply better than one that’s not.  There are a few different electric polish shakers available.  Check out some of these:

  • Robart Shaker ($34.99)
  • For Pro Shaker ($35.99) – this one is quieter than the Robart and doesn’t move around as much.
  • OPI ProShaker ($99.99) – the mother of all polish shakers.  I want this one, but haven’t taken the plunge yet.


If your gel polishes do start to thicken, try using a few drops of gel polish thinner to improve the consistency.  Use a shaker to mix the polish well after adding the thinner.  I’ve rescued a few bottles that were on the edge of going bad this way.  Don’t try using acetone or remover to thin your polishes though.  Check out some of these options:

What tips and tricks do you have regarding the proper care of gel polish? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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40 Responses

  1. Ieva says:

    Just a small note – shelf life of Gelish gel polishes are 36 months :) (except trends – they are 18 months.)
    18 are just of foundation, top and bond, nourish :)

    • Andrea says:

      You’re right – I was looking at a Trends bottle. The symbol on the other Gelish bottles is almost impossible to read.

  2. KD says:

    I’ve been looking at the Hildbrandt Mixmaster for $89. (Too many reviews saying the shakers break easily.) Plus I could mix lots of bottles at once. Have you seen these?

    • Andrea says:

      I hadn’t heard of that so I had to look it up. It appears to be for mixing tattoo inks, but would probably work well for polish too, though I think only the round bottles would work on it. I can’t imagine trying to use it for a square, rectangular or even a Shellac-shaped bottle. ??

      • KD says:

        I actually don’t have anything but round gel bottles lol. But I imagine putting an empty cardboard tube around an odd shaped one would do the trick. It says it can hold up to a two ounce bottle, way bigger than anything I have.

    • Jo says:

      ProShaker all the way! Worth the $$. Works on all polish including gel polish.

  3. JKP says:

    Awesome post!!! So much great info!!

  4. Kristina says:

    Between the robart and the for pro shaker would you recommend one over the other? I saw mixed reviews on both but it seems like you haven’t had any problems with your Robsrt. The opi one is too expensive for my personal needs. Thanks!

    • Andrea says:

      I haven’t used the ProShaker, but know a few people that have it. I think they’re similar, but the ProShaker is prettier and quieter. I haven’t had any issues with my Robart.

  5. Martin says:

    I recently contacted CND about shelf life and this was the reply.

    Thank you for contacting CND.

    Shellac Color Coat, shelf life is (30) months from the date of manufacture.

    Please feel free to contact us should you have any additional questions or needs.

    Thank you for making this a Creative day!


    Rhonda “Dede” Steele
    Customer Service Coordinator
    Revlon Professional Brands
    9560 Towne Centre Drive, Suite 200
    San Diego, CA 92121

  6. Michelle says:

    This info is so helpful Andrea, thank you again for a great blog!

  7. Jessica says:

    Off the subject of today’s post…but I wonder if you have any tips for shining a gel set back up (buff, reapply top coat, etc.)? Thanks for your time!

  8. Cat says:

    I love my Opi Proshaker 2.0 got it for Christmas it’s so sturdy built of the same quality as the Opi Led lamp so worth it they have revamped the button in this model I have shaken over 200 bottles of gel polish with it so far.

  9. Angela says:

    I started buying the brands that don’t yellow or thicken in the bottle over time. The few that contain no nitrocellulose solvents: Akzentz and Cuccio. Beyond that, I went with the ForPro and it’s been dreamy since last July. It’ll do AC or battery for mobile, cord free use. I didn’t like the IZen Pro Shaker for anything except lacquers. It’s expensive and limited on what neck sizes will fit in it. iZen also turns the polishes upside down and I got gel in the neck on all but Cuccio that has a baffle on the applicator stem to reduce that. I thought it was a time consuming pain to use too. I had more air incorporated in the gels than with side shakers which I prefer bunches (except for lacquer, iZen wins there). I’m lucky enough to have mild, fairly even ambient temperatures where I live year round. I also keep them out of direct lighting sources. Even with Cuccio wee window hearts, I turn those sideways so they occlude each other. I’ve had gels pristine for over 4 years with the exception of IBD Fireworks and Gelish Vegas Nights which yellowed in their clear bases, not terrible, but yellowed so it’ll show a tint on a clear swatch. A few corals and pinks have faded peachier in the bottle across some brands. A few others went a bit transparent: LeChat moods are touchy and thicken, IBD Camellia Petals went somewhat sheer (on the swatch and in the bottle). A few glitter polishes begin to lose their color fastness in the presence of solvents and tinted the base gel. Overall, I’ve been lucky because these with a shorter shelf life are a small percentage of the total owned.

    • Angela says:

      ^I guess I mostly mean, with reasonable care, the expiration dates are kinda bunk for all but the manufacturers who won’t exchange or refund them after the times noted?

  10. Caroline Jones says:


    I was under the impression that if you shake Gel Polish this would cause air bubbles to form and because it is gel they dont pop there fore leaving horrible bubbles in your manicure??

    Please let me know if this is not the case as I really struggle with polish seperating.

    • Andrea says:

      I’ve heard that too, but I shake the heck out of mine and never have issues with air bubbles. The mechanical shakers use vibration and smaller shaking movements which also doesn’t cause air bubbles.

  11. Angela says:

    This was interesting from Dr. Bryson at OPI (lacquer/RNP tho):

    “The Period-After-Opening number is required for most cosmetics by the European Union (EU), but it is rather meaningless for nail lacquer. Nail lacquer does not go “bad” with bacteria after opening (or ever), because the solvents are chemically hostile to microbes. Indeed, research shows clearly that microbes don’t survive in nail lacquer, whether in a salon environment or even if deliberately contaminated in a laboratory test.

    For most other cosmetic products, such as skin lotions or hand creams, the preservatives eventually get used up, especially with repeated opening and closing , and bacteria can then colonize them and start to grow. So the PAO makes sense for these products. I don’t think they had nail polish in mind when they wrote the rule.

    So…..Why 24 months PAO for nail lacquer? Because the EU is distrustful of larger numbers. In reality, nail lacquer should stay safe forever. It might not be any good after many years — due to slow color changes or if it evaporates to a solid, useless block — but it won’t be unsafe. And as you know, the PAO number is about how long, after opening, is the product SAFE (“no harm to the consumer”), not about whether it will work properly!

    Is this what you wanted to know?

    Paul Bryson, Ph.D.
    Director of Research & Development, OPI Products Inc.,

  12. Crystal says:

    Are bathrooms too un-even of a temperature? If I don’t keep my polishes in the cabinet in there, I don’t know where I’d find the room. Maybe I’ll have to get rid of some clothes so I have space in my closet.

  13. Karen H says:

    I have 3 year old bottles of Gelish. I hadn’t done my nails w/gel in about a year. Recently, I did 2 gel manicures with the old bottles and the manicures only lasted 3 days each. I was careful to follow all of the steps including using PhBond. In fact, the bottles had black around the rim and I detected a mold smell. I thought that it was really weird. My polishes are stored in my bedroom closet and because of the attic opening, the temperature may vary. Just my experience.

  14. Jo says:

    I am so frustrated by the shelf life of CNDs Shellac!!! I have all the colors but not all are popular. I can open one of those less used colors and although it appears good, viscosity and coverage, they do NOT cure under the lamp. No cure at any length of time. This leaves me looking like a novice nail tech and takes up so much time. I’ve had to do nails over trying to explain to the client in the chair and the one waiting… unhappy. Costing me a lot of money in product and I’ve given out discounts to make up for the product blunder.

  15. Jaybea says:

    I have had a few of my bottles of Gelish for 4-5 years, since I started geling. I don’t notice any problems with them at all. That’s one of the reasons I’m a big advocate of geling…besides the length of time they last, the polish may be more expensive, but it will last you MUCH longer than typical nail polish.

  16. Jo says:

    The CND Shellacs are giving me the most problems and they are the most expensive. Tiny bottles for the same price. I am a pro so I get a discount but it’s cutting into my income to throw out half used bottles!!!

  17. Tanya says:

    Do you have any suggestions for traveling by car with gel polishes? Actually, they will be in the bed of a truck in August heat during our 2-day trip. I was thinking I would put them in a small cooler with a small ice pack. I don’t want to freeze them, but I also don’t want to let them get too hot. Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks~

    • Jo says:

      A cooler is a great idea. You don’t want them to get hot, or freeze. Just kept cool & dark.

  18. Sheila says:

    I have other gel nail Polish that they are not known brand that I have bought them on eBay for 2 dollars and they come already thick. I use that liquid thinner for gel nail polish and it thins out but it won’t last long. And I’ve had my gel polish in my bathroom area under the sink that is cold that the heater doesn’t get through. Do you think they won’t work anymore?

  19. Lany says:

    If the bottles have been kept in a drawer, brand new & sealed for over two years, will they still be good? I have so many in the drawer and so sad thinking of throwing them out :-(

  20. Shazz says:

    Brilliant advice thanks. I to thought you couldn’t shake some brands but may just try. Mainly use Gelish and Astonishing Nails

  21. Natasha says:

    Has anyone ever put one of the little metal balls in their gel polish to help with mixing? They have them in normal polish. Just wondering if there is a reason they don’t have them in gel polish