Now that the weather has finally caught up with the time of year, it’s understandable that you’d want to spend more time outside. Think of your favorite beach, your neighborhood swimming pool, lakes, rivers, and peaceful tanning time. But before you go out, you have to be sure to protect yourself from the sun’s relentless rays, so you’ll have to grab last summer’s bottle of sunscreen…but can sunscreen expire?
Yes. Most definitely.
Sunscreen does expire.
According to expert, Shari Marchbeind, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, “Sunscreen absolutely expires and should never be used past its expiration date. Like food, sunscreen can go bad and the ingredients can spoil, leading to a watery consistency. They also become less effective, which means a significant increase in the potential for sunburns, sun damage, brown spots, and the risk of skin cancer development” (1).
What’s Wrong with Expired Sunscreen?
The entire purpose of sunscreen is to protect you from all sorts of sun damage. So one of the most obvious problems with using expired sunscreen is that it’s pointless. Since the ingredients in sunscreen are only able to work for a certain amount of time, there’s absolutely no reason to expect it to help your skin out under the intensity of the sun. “Expired” means that the products within are no longer working, and that goes for both chemical and mineral sunscreens (1).
When Does Sunscreen Expire?
Alright, so let’s make one thing clear: Sunscreens are generally designed to remain at their original strength for up to three years (2). That means that you can use your leftover sunscreen from one year on to the next year. Some sunscreens helpfully provide an expiration date, which marks when they are no longer effective. But even if they don’t, you can just write the date of purchase on the bottle and throw it out after three years. As long as your sunscreen hasn’t gone through any obvious changes, such as consistency, color, or smell, then it’s probably safe to keep for up to three years (2).
How Do I Know If My Sunscreen Expires Early?
There are certain things that can cause sunscreen to expire quicker. Even if your sunscreen is only a summer old, it can still be spoiled. Say you stored it in a warm place like your car, by a pool, or in your purse, then it’s much more likely that it will expire quicker than normal (1). If your sunscreen has been exposed to a lot of heat, then it’s safe to replace it every couple of months to be sure you maintain a safe coating (1).
Regardless of the expiration date on the bottle, you should always be sure to test your sunscreen before trusting it to be safe. You should watch for consistency changes, such as it being overly watery or being full of clumps and piles (1). A change in smell is also an indicator that your sunscreen might be full of bacteria (1).
If you’ve been careful with storing your sunscreen, it will last longer (3). That being said, let’s clarify the problems with expired sunscreen!
If you want to ensure a burn-free summer where you protect your skin, then go ahead and purchase new sunscreen. If you’re up to testing the dependability of last summer’s bottle, then proceed at your own risk! Whether you have a new bottle of sunscreen or old, keep in mind to reapply every couple of hours if you’re going to spend time in the sun.