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Yes, Sunscreen Expires

June 19, 2023

Summer is right around the corner which means t-shirts, shorts, bathing suits and breaking out the sunscreen. Having effective sunscreen is vital because not only will it keep you from burning your skin, it can also reduce signs of aging and your risk of skin cancer. But is the half-used or unopened lotion you bought last summer still okay to use or when is it time to toss the bottle? 

Sunscreen expires which means that its active ingredients have broken down and are no longer effective at protecting a person against UV rays. This may leave you vulnerable to a sunburn, sun poisoning or other skin damage.

Sunscreens are required by the Food and Drug Administration to be formulated to stay stable and effective for three years. This means that you can use leftover sunscreen from one year to the next even after opening it. Manufacturers are not required to date their products, so if you have a date-less sunscreen and can’t recall when you bought it, don’t take a chance.

When you buy a bottle of sunscreen, check to see if it has an expiration date on it. If it doesn’t have one, write the purchased date on it. Also take note of the period-after-opening symbol, which tells you how long a product stays fresh once opened. It typically looks like a jar with the lid off and a number, which indicates the number of months after you open it that it’s usable. Storing it in a cool and dry place also helps maintain the quality. Sunscreens expire more quickly if stored in an unsuitable environment, such as in heat from sunlight.

Amanda Nold, PA

“Sunscreen is considered an over-the-counter drug and is evaluated by the FDA for stability. Sunscreens are designed to remain at their original strength for three years, but that also depends on proper storage,” said Amanda Nold, Physician Assistant, with West Tennessee Medical Group Primary Care. “And that is three years past production, not necessarily the date of purchase.”

Some signs your sunscreen might be ineffective are its consistency, color and smell. If the sunscreen is very watery or chunky, an unusual shade, smells differently than when you bought it or just smells weird in general, it is most likely expired.

“Just like food and medications, sunscreen can go bad,” she says. “And as the ingredients start to spoil, the sun protective qualities diminish which can compromise the integrity of the product leaving you at risk for some serious sun damage.”

To keep your sunscreen in peak condition, the FDA recommends avoiding exposing sunscreen containers to direct sunlight. Heat and sun exposure can cause the active ingredients in the formula to degrade faster. Much like heat, moisture creates humidity, which can make it unstable. Moisture can also make an ideal environment for mold growth.

Sunscreen is crucial because it reduces the risk of UV rays penetrating the skin. Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen which protects a person from UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is water resistant for 40–80 minutes and has an SPF of 30 or higher.

There are two types of sunscreens, physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens, also called mineral sunscreens or sunblock, contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. This type of sunscreen usually remains stable longer due to its ingredients but will eventually expire. Chemical sunscreens contain UVB as well as UVA blockers and undergoes molecular changes when exposed to sunlight and heat. While it may still offer some protection, its SPF rating might not be as high as what is on its label.

Expired sunscreen won’t harm you, but it will allow the sun to harm your skin. If you have a bottle of sunscreen that you’re not sure about throw it out just like you would any other over the counter or prescription medication, or even perishable food item.

“I say it is better to be safe than sorry,” says Nold. “I recommend purchasing new sunscreen every season because you don’t want to take any risks when it comes to the sun and your skin.”

If you have concerns about previous exposure to the sun or have spots on your skin that concern you, it may be time to let an expert check them. West Tennessee Medical Group Primary Care clinics have locations across the area and the professionals to help. To schedule an appointment, click here