Trying to understand what the expiration date means on your sunscreen bottle, questioning whether the quality stays the same or if it needs to be tossed

Understanding Sunscreen Expiration Dates

Like most things in life, a bottle of sunscreen is not going to last forever. And, in fact, sunscreen expires. So don't be so quick to use an old sunscreen bottle you found tucked away in storage. While that old sunscreen may provide some protection, it won’t be providing the level of UV protection that it once did. But how do we know when our sunscreen expires?

How and when our sunscreen expires

Fortunately, sunscreens are designed, and required, to last a very long time. The FDA requires all sunscreens have an effective use of at least three years. So you’ll almost never have to worry about expirations as it’s unlikely you’ll have a bottle that actually lasts that long. However, I’ve certainly misplaced my fair share of sunscreen bottles only to find them resurface years later. When this happens, quickly check the expiration date before you bring it out to the beach. If it’s expired, don’t hesitate to simply toss it in the trash. Once it’s expired there’s no way to make sure it’s providing the same level of UV protection listed on the bottle.

What if you can’t find the expiration date on the bottle?

While all sunscreens are supposed to have the expiration listed, it might be difficult to find. It's also possible it may have faded to the point where you cannot read it. In these situations, the FDA recommendation is simply to determine its expiration based on the date of purchase. So if you cannot find the expiration, but know you purchased it within the last three years, it should be considered ok. But past that, go ahead and toss it. If you can’t find the expiration AND you’re unsure of when you purchased it – play it safe and throw it out.

Does it matter how it’s stored?

It’s always best to store sunscreens at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. This means trying to keep your sunscreen wrapped in a towel or even inside your cooler if you’re heading to the beach. This will make sure the sunscreen stays effective for as long as possible. If you read the fine print on the sunscreen it will state this as well. Per FDA regulations, all sunscreens are required to include “Protect the product in this container from excessive heat and direct sun,” on the label as an easy reminder for the consumer.

Are there other ways of being able to tell if it’s expired?

Look for any visible changes. Oftentimes, when sunscreen expires, it will start to show signs of it spoiling. This might be visible as a change in color, consistency, or it may have even started to separate. Also, if you open it up and it smells like a garbage can, that’s not usually a great sign. So even if you are still within the expiration date, if you know it’s old, give it a quick inspection. If you notice any signs of your sunscreen changing or looking different than it used to, my recommendation would be to simply buy another bottle.

What happens if you’ve been using it, but later find out it was expired?

Even if sunscreen expires, it still provides some level of protection. That four-year-old bottle of SPF 50 may still be working hard and providing a level of protection of SPF 45. However, it’s equally possible that it’s only providing a level of protection equivalent to SPF 3. It’s impossible to know. So if you’ve been using an expired bottle, it’s very possible and likely that you were receiving less UV protection than you had anticipated. Aside from that, using expired sunscreen shouldn’t cause any other major health issues.

When sunscreen expires, it's time to say goodbye

It’s best to simply double-check the expiration before using your sunscreen if you don’t remember buying it anytime recently. And if it's too old to be used, it's no longer useful for your body.

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