On a hot, hazy day of summer, you’re on a beach with the sun rising overhead. You love relaxing on the beach under the bright sun, but what about your skin? Your skin doesn’t like the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It can cause sunburns, wrinkles, premature aging, leathery skin, and even cancer. To protect your skin, you reach into your bag, just to found yourself with an old bottle of expired sunscreen. You might wonder: When does sunscreen expire? Or can I use expired sunscreen?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sunscreens are required to stay in their original effectiveness for at least 3 years. In other words, you should be able to use your sunscreen for 3 years. Some sunscreens have an expiration date mentioned on the bottle, indicating how long the sunscreen is good for.
Dermatologists constantly reinforce how important it is to use sunscreen on vulnerable skin. Nowadays, sunscreens have become much more effective in protecting skin from the sun’s rays. Not only does your sunscreen protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, but it also lowers the risk of skin cancer and protects from premature aging. In fact, your sunscreen is a crucial component of a complete sun protection strategy. This includes wearing sunglasses, protective clothing, and not exposing your skin in the sun’s peak hours. But why an expiration date? What happens when sunscreen expires?
Read on to find if expired sunscreen is better than no sunscreen.
Why an Expiration Date
So how long does sunscreen last? The ingredients in sunscreen can go bad. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration requires sunscreens to have an expiration date mentioned. The date shows when the sunscreen is no longer effective. The expiration date is usually 3 years after the sunscreen is made.
Can sunscreens go bad? Yes, the ingredients of the formula can lose their effectiveness after some time. For example, homosalate and oxybenzone-containing sunscreens may begin to oxidize. Likewise, sunscreens with zinc oxide may lose potency after passing their expiration date.
However, physical sunscreens have a longer shelf life and are more stable as compared to chemical sunscreens. But what’s the difference between the two types of sunscreen? A physical sunscreen covers your skin and reflects ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays. In contrast, chemical sunscreens absorb in the skin, change ultraviolet rays into heat, and release them from the body.
How to find when does your sunscreen expires? You can flip the sunscreen bottle and look for the expiration date to determine how long your sunscreen will last. Or you can use your sunscreen for 3 years if the manufacturer has proven its product to last for the expected expiration date. However, we advise you to use your sunscreen before the expiration date for best sun protection with better stability, texture, and sterility.
Does using expired sunscreen still work? After reaching the expiration date, your sunscreen will likely become less effective to protect your skin from UV rays. And so increasing your risk of sunburn and cancer. Furthermore, don’t place your sunscreen in direct sunlight and heat as they can cause your sunscreen to become less effective over time. They do so by breaking down the chemicals, thus making your sunblock expire.
How to determine whether your sunscreen has expired or not? Look for the expiration date mentioned on the bottle or packaging. What if there isn’t any expiration date mentioned? According to the FDA, you can assume it is good to use for 3 years past its buying date. Make sure to discard your sunscreen after this date, as it won’t be effective in blocking UV rays or sunburn. In most countries, you won’t find an expiration date on a sunscreen lotion. In that case, you can write down the month, and year you purchased your sunscreen. It’s a good idea to write it with a marker on the bottle, so you don’t forget about it.
You can also look for indicators to know your sunscreen has expired. If there’s a change in color or smell, toss it. A bad smell is generally an indication that your sunscreen has been exposed to bacteria. Suppose you stored your sunscreen in a warm place, such as a car or gym bag, or under direct exposure to UV light. In that case, your sunscreen will expire sooner than later. If the consistency is off when you apply your sunscreen, this could be another indicator to throw it out. Moreover, most manufacturers ensure that sunscreen doesn’t react to its bottle. A damaged container is another indicator to discard it as chemicals or bacteria may steep into the sunscreen.
Another question we often receive is: how long does sunscreen last when applied on the skin? The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of your sunscreen is only effective for two hours after you put it on. It’s a good idea to carry a sunblock bottle of SPF 30 or 50 (use SPF 50 or 60 sunscreen for eczema) around you. If you’re exposed to sunlight for more than two hours, reapply sunscreen on your skin.
So yes, expired sunscreen is still better than no sunscreen. Suppose you’re in a situation mentioned above. You don’t have access to a new sunscreen. And your sunscreen is slightly past its expiration date, but it looks, smells, and feels the same, then you’re good to use it. This is most true if your sunscreen is a physical sunblock containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These active ingredients are photostable and don’t change molecular structure easily.
However, don’t go overboard while using old or expired sunscreen. Make sure no more than six months have passed after the expiration date. Look for the indicators before applying, as expired sunscreens reduce their level of skin protection with time. On the other hand, it’s better to discard your sunscreen if its expiration date has long passed the six-month grace period, even if it seems okay.
A sunscreen shelf life is 3 years, according to FDA regulations. For optimum results, it’s better to use your sunscreen before it expires and store it in a cool, dark place. Though expired sunscreen is generally better than no sunscreen, it’s still better to equip your skin with complete protection. Lastly, your sunscreen bottle shouldn’t last that long if you use it. So make sure to apply sunscreen before you expose your skin to the sunlight and protect it from sunburn, premature aging, wrinkles, and even skin cancer.