Does Sunscreen Expire?

Sunscreens take a while to technically expire, but if you keep a bottle for too long, it might not offer you adequate protection.

If you find a bottle of sunscreen from who-knows-when in the depths of your bathroom cabinet, you might ponder "Hmm, does sunscreen expire?" Then you probably start weighing your options: Use the lotion and risk inadequate sun protection or toss it and potentially throw out a perfectly usable product. Before you head outside, here's what you should know about sunscreen expiration. (

Does Sunscreen Expire?

While it might be the more wasteful route, you're better off tossing an ancient bottle of sunscreen, since yes, sunscreen does expire. Over time, the sun-blocking ingredients decompose, which can make the product less protective. Use an expired bottle and you risk avoidable sun damage.

How long does sunscreen last?

"Sunscreens should be shelf-stable for three years according to the Food and Drug Administration," says JiaDe Yu, M.D., director of Occupational and Contact Dermatitis Clinic, assistant professor of Dermatology Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, and contracted specialist at AristaMD. Though not all formulas meet that longevity threshold likely due to factors such as the concentration of preservatives, stability of the formulation in heat, or direct light. In those cases, FDA regulations require the company to include an expiration date on the container. And FTR, there doesn't seem to be any difference in mineral versus chemical sunscreens regarding lifespan, adds Dr. Yu. Finally, in case you were wondering, the expiration date is the same whether or not the bottle has been opened, according to Time.

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But Can You Use Expired Sunscreen In a Pinch?

If you don't have time for a run to the store, using up an old bottle can be tempting, but this is not something with which you want to push your luck. "I would not recommend using expired sunscreen as the UV blocking capabilities may be drastically lessened than what's advertised," says Dr. Yu. (UV rays can cause skin cancer and visible signs of aging.) "While it may still provide some protection, this is hard to gauge. Furthermore, the preservatives in sunscreen that prevent it from growing bacteria, fungus, or mold may have degraded, and thus it's impossible to ensure that the sunscreen is still safe to use." The potential ramifications of using an expired cosmetic (sunscreen or otherwise) will probably make you think twice. Using contaminated personal care products "can lead to superficial skin infections such as impetigo (common bacterial infection), folliculitis, or more severe systemic infections where the bacteria, fungus or mold can get into your bloodstream making you very sick," explains Dr. Yu. "This is extremely rare but a potential risk if the preservatives in a particular product are no longer present or working the way it should."

It's worth noting that if you're actually making a point to use the Skin Cancer Foundation-recommended amount of sunscreen all the time, you probably won't end up with a backlog in the first place. "Adults should apply at least 1 ounce of sunscreen to the entire body 15 minutes before going outdoors," says Dr. Yu. "Therefore, a standard 3-oz. tube of sunscreen should only last three applications." Three uses... just let that sink in.

How Can You Tell If Sunscreen Is Expired?

As mentioned, some sunscreens will include an expiration date on the packaging, although it won't always be easy to find. It can be carved into the plastic at the top of the tube, laser engraved on the bottom of a can, or printed on the box that it comes in. Sometimes, you'll find the manufacture date rather than an expiration date, in which case you can count ahead three years to know the expiration date (as shown with this Banana Boat example). If the sunscreen is a formula that's shelf-stable for at least three years, though, it might not have an expiration label at all, and in that case, the burden falls on you to remember how long you've had it. If you ever notice any obvious changes in color or consistency, that's a sign a sunscreen has expired, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. (

The short answer to the question, "Does sunscreen expire?" is yes. If you've managed to collect half-used sunscreens from years gone by, it's probably time to weed out anything that's expired. But by doing so, you might end up saving yourself from future unintended sun damage or skin infection — worth it.

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