It’s summer and the sun is blaring. You’re wearing sunscreen lotion, right? (And you’re doing it year-round too, correct?) If you’re anything like us, maybe you grabbed a spray bottle from the back of that overcrowded closet you’re always meaning to clean. Maybe you found a spare tube of face sunscreen in your weekend bag from 1998. Or perhaps you grabbed a bottle of sunscreen off of your friend’s Jersey Shore patio with a label that looks like it faded away in the summer sun of, oh, 1986.
Chances are you've never stopped to wonder "Does sunscreen expire?" After all, you're one step ahead of the crowds by putting it on in the first place, right? Well, maybe not. Like other beauty products or medicine, most sunscreen has a shelf life, and you won’t just be sacrificing on texture or even smell if you use it after it’s prime. You won’t be getting important protection from the sun, the whole reason you’re putting it on in the first place.
Does sunscreen expire?
Dr. Mervyn Patterson from Woodford Medical spoke to Cosmopolitan UK and confirmed that, yep, sunscreen does indeed expire. Here are some key takeaways.
"Most sunscreens do expire and because of this a lot should come with an expiry date stamped on the box" said Dr. Patterson. "It is very important not to ignore this as the chemicals do degrade and may well lose their protective effect." So slathering on the sunscreen lotion, even though you think you’re doing something good, might be pointless if it’s been sitting in your pantry since last summer.
So after you dust the cobwebs off that tube, check to see if it has an expiration date. In the garbage it goes if that date was even a day in the past. Even if your bottle doesn’t have a date stamped somewhere, there are ways to tell if your lotion is long past its prime. Smell the product and look at it’s texture. If it’s different than when you first started using it, toss it; expired products may start to separate.
Sunscreens are designed to stay at their original strength for up to three years, according to the Mayo Clinic, but if yours has an expiration date earlier than that, follow what’s on the label. so that’s a good rule to keep in mind. To keep your sunscreen in good condition, also be sure to store it in a cool, dry place — so no nestling it up with that bug spray in a basket on your porch.
Our top picks for warding off dangerous UV rays? Block Island Organics Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 and Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Baby, SPF 30+, both of which the Environmental Working Group give their highest ratings for safety. Next step: applying sunscreen even when it’s cloudy out, even in the winter.
What happens if you use expired sunscreen?
First of all, you'll get a fraction of the sun protection you think you're getting. The severity of the burn you're setting yourself up for depends on how long past its prime that tube is, though. Sunscreen, like any other beauty or medical product, is made up of chemicals, and those degrade. That means little by little, they lose their effect. Yet another reason to check that expiration date. But, brace yourself, you're not just setting yourself up for a typical day-at-the-beach burn.
Expired sunscreen might even make your burn worse. And the last thing you want when you're looking like a lobster is chemicals adding to the discomfort."If a sunscreen product has deteriorated, then in theory there is a risk of chemical alteration of the ingredients," Dr. Patterson explains. That means there's a risk of irritation beyond getting blasted by those UV rays. If there's no date on the container, you can't tell from the sniff test and you can't remember when you picked it up from the store, it's worth shelling out a couple bucks for another bottle. Either that, or get ready to stock up on the aloe vera.