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Does Sunscreen Expire? Answers To Protecting Your Skin


Even for those of us holed up in an office, as any dermatologist will tell you, protecting skin against UV damage is a year-round commitment. As a beauty editor I have to say I’ve gathered a hefty collection of sunscreens over the years – but I never remember to look at the expiration date on the back. Does sunscreen expire? And how effective is sunblock after a few years?

If you’ve been with Kiseu for any length of time, you know that we’re pretty enthusiastic about wearing sunscreen. Not only does it protect your skin from sun damage and skin cancer, but it’s the easiest beauty secret that’s not a secret. 

We’re answering the puzzling question: ‘does sunscreen expire?’, so you can make the most of your products and protect your skin at the same time.


How Do You Know if Sunscreen is Expired?

Sometimes, it’s enough effort just to slather on sunscreen at the start of the day that you completely forget to glance at the expiration date.

But you don’t want to wait for a burn to realize your sunblock isn’t doing its job. When does sunscreen expire?

The FDA reported that most sunscreens last for about 3 years, so you shouldn’t have to toss out that bottle you bought this summer. Things get a little tricky depending on how you care for your sunscreen, though.

Why does sunscreen expire? Like all your cosmetics, sunscreen doesn’t last forever. Most sunscreens are carefully-mixed combinations of chemicals that degrade easily in their natural states. Too much exposure to hot temperatures, moisture or sun could result in the breakdown of chemicals in your formula. This means that your sun cream could be way less effective at protecting your skin than you think.

It’s always important to check the bottle in stores, too. Grocery stores may not be checking the expiration dates of sunscreen because it’s not a perishable product like food. A study by GMA Investigates found that major stores were carrying bottles that had expired over 3 years ago.

Any changes in the consistency, smell, or colour of your sunblock are also probably signs that it’s past its expiration date. As long as you use your sunblock before three years have passed from the manufacturing date, and you store it in a cool, dark location, you can be fairly certain that your sunscreen is still protecting you.


Is it Okay to Use Expired Sunscreen?

Alright, so you’re out in the sun, and all you have on-hand is an expired bottle of sunscreen. Is it worth it to even put it on? In most cases, expired sunscreen is better than no sunscreen, especially if your sunscreen is in cream form. When your sunscreen goes bad, it might not deliver protection at the SPF it advertises, but it’s most likely better than exposing bare skin to the sun.

Sunscreen that comes as a spray or gel is probably less effective. If the active ingredients in these thinner formulas degrade, the effectiveness goes downhill fast. Thicker creams usually use physical ingredients like zinc oxide, and can still be effective after their expiration date. If you have to gamble, go with a cream, but it’s best to toss out the leftover sprays and gels you have once they go bad.

If you have tons of half-full bottles of sunscreen left over, it’s highly possible you aren’t using enough in the first place. To be effective, you should use about an ounce of sunblock all over your body, reapplying every two hours.

If you boost the amount of sunblock you’re using regularly, you shouldn’t have tons of unused sunscreen. (A good rule of thumb is to have a new bottle of sunscreen for every season of the year – more if you spend lots of time outside or on the beach.)

You should view your sunscreen like it’s an over-the-counter medication. (Because, it kind of is.) If you wouldn’t use medicine past its expiration date, you shouldn’t take the risk on your skin health, either. Manufacturers are required to jump through major hoops to make sure sun products are effective until their expiration dates.

Final Thoughts

If you store your sunscreen as the bottle prescribes and use it up before three years have passed, (or the expiration date comes, whichever is first.) you can be confident that it’s still working as advertised.

So, the next time you hit the beach, check your bottle and don’t be stingy with the sun cream – it could save you from wasted money and a sunburn!

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