Does sunscreen expire? Here’s what you should know

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Sunscreen might be one the best tools you have to protect your skin from the dangerous UV rays of the sun. Using sunblock properly lowers the risk of skin damage and premature aging — not to mention painful sunburns — even if you’re spending all your summer days out on the beach (lucky you!).

But have you ever caught yourself wondering, does sunscreen expire? When did you buy that half-empty bottle of sunscreen, anyway? Here’s an easy guideline to follow: If you can’t remember when you bought the bottle, it might be time to toss it.

What You Need To Know About Sun Protection And Sunscreen

There are two main types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that reach the earth from the sun — UVA and UVB. UVA rays, which make up most of the sunlight that reaches us, are longer wavelengths that cause premature aging along with eye damage. UVA rays also play a role in cancer formation. UVB rays cause sunburns and are more seriously implicated than UVA rays in skin cancer and aging.

Too much exposure to sunlight can cause long-term health issues. To prevent damage from UV rays, you should wear proper, protective clothing. You also need a broad-spectrum sunscreen that you apply liberally and frequently.

Use at least one ounce, the amount needed to fill a shot glass, to protect any exposed areas of the body. You might even need more depending on your body size.

Many people prefer to use two sunscreens, one for the body and one made specifically for the face. Facial sunscreens are formulated differently than those for the body; they’re often lighter and designed to be more easily absorbed. If you’re exposing your body to the sun, both your face and body should be protected.

Usually, when sunscreen is used properly, a bottle doesn’t last very long

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Does Sunscreen Expire? Experts Say Yes

Yes, sunscreen expires! The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates sunscreens, requires manufacturers to produce sunscreen that retains its original strength for at least three years, even if the container has been opened.

Using expired bottles can lead to sunburns, skin cancer and sun damage, so the expiration date is something you want to pay attention to. Some sunscreen brands indicate the date on which the product can no longer be guaranteed effective.

“You should not use expired sunscreen because it becomes less effective,” Raman Madan, a board-certified dermatologist at Huntington Hospital in New York. told Good Housekeeping. “This leads to less protection, which means more sunburns, a higher risk of skin cancer, and an increase in sun damage.”

Madan says old opened bottles harbor more bacteria, too, which can lead to breakouts.

The FDA requires the same expiration date labeling requirements for sunscreens as over-the-counter medications, so sunscreen bottles must have an expiration date unless they’ve been tested to work as advertised for at least three years.

You may wish to write the date of purchase on the bottle yourself. Three years later, any remaining lotion should be tossed.

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Keeping Your Sunscreen Safe

Be mindful of where you store your sunscreen. It’s best tucked away in a cool, dark cabinet, which will shield it from unnecessary exposure to excessive heat or direct sun.

When you have it at the beach or pool, place the container in the shade or wrapped with a towel. Heat and sun can make sunscreen less effective before the expiration date.

Chemical sunscreens work on the notion of absorbing and scattering UV rays. When a bottle is exposed to heat, say in a hot beach bag or tossed on your lounge chair, the lotion inside can undergo chemical changes.

Discard sunscreen that’s undergone noticeable changes in color, texture or consistency. If it’s watery or smells funny, it’s probably spoiled, according to Consumer Reports.

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If this means you might want to stock up on a new bottle or two, check out our vetted selection of this year’s best sunscreens and tanning products.

So next time you won’t need to ask “Does sunscreen expire?”  — because now you know!

About the Author

Emily O'Brien

Emily is a freelance writer who loves connecting the dots among facts and finding obscure little details to weave in throughout her work. Whether she's interviewing Olympic athletes, small business owners, dessert cookbook writers, or world-renowned architects, she's passionate about shining the spotlight on good people doing remarkable work. Learn More.