It’s tempting to use expired sunscreen because it’s so expensive, but before you risk that, here’s what you need to know.
Does Sunscreen Expire?
After a long cold winter there’s nothing more exciting than the arrival of beach season. For me, even packing is fun. It usually involves numerous shopping trips for everything from actual necessities to those little indulgences you can’t resist because, after all, it’s vacation time!
Even if you’re a frugal spender, costs can add up, so you look to save wherever you can. One temptation is that brand new sunscreen you bought at the beginning of last summer. It was expensive, and you never even opened it, so surely it’s still good, right?
Maybe not. According to FDA regulations, all sunscreens must have an expiration date printed on the labeling, “unless stability testing conducted by the manufacturer has shown that the product will remain stable for at least three years.” That means…
If you can find an expiration date you can quickly determine whether it’s safe to use.
If not, then who knows? Do you remember what date you bought it? Has it been sitting in your cabinet just one year, or two? How long did it sit on the store shelf before you purchased it?
If you aren’t sure, it’s better to toss it and buy more (and this time be sure you select a brand with an expiration date!). There are actually some health benefits of the ocean, so don’t negate them by risking harm from too much sun.
I can tell you from personal experience that I once saw a friend suffer a terrible sunburn because she didn’t think to check whether her sunscreen was expired. She applied it correctly, didn’t go in the water, reapplied it at the recommended times, and still got a bad burn.
So, yes, sunscreen definitely does expire. The problem is that sometimes it’s difficult to know when.
How Long Is Sunscreen Good For?
As mentioned above, FDA regulations require that sunscreens without an expiration date must remain effective for 3 years. When you buy sunscreen that doesn’t include an expiration date, you might try using a permanent marker to write the purchase date on the bottle or tube. That way you can keep track of how old it is. You know, most often time goes by way faster than we remember!
Personally, I wouldn’t trust it past a year. One reason is what I said above about not knowing how long it has been on a store shelf. The other reason is, well, the FDA.
Does the FDA actually police the sunscreen industry? How is this “3-year rule” enforced? I would have to ask this question: Considering what we’ve experienced since 2020, how much do you trust the FDA? I’m not implying anything one way or the other. I’m just saying you should think about what you know now and make up your own mind.
For reference, you might be interested in this Good Housekeeping article explaining the 2019 FDA proposed new sunscreen regulations. Here we are in 2022, and the FDA still has not resolved this or finalized any updated regulations.
Can You Use Expired Sunscreen?
This is really not a good idea. If you decide to use expired sunscreen, you do so at your own risk.
One way to test it would be to lather up and be in the sun for a very short time. That time will vary among individuals, depending on how fast you usually tan or burn. If you’re testing sunscreen, you better make it very short!
After that brief period in the sun, go inside and give yourself a chance to cool down. Then see if your skin is showing signs of tanning or burning. For me that takes hours. Often I won’t see any affects from the sun until having been inside for several hours and after showering.
I absolutely DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS! The only time I would even think of trying this would be if I were somewhere that I couldn’t get more sunscreen and didn’t have any other choice. Otherwise, if you aren’t sure about a product, throw it out and buy more. It’s worth the small cost to save yourself from all the damage sun does to your skin, including serious health risks such as skin cancer.
Sunscreen Expiration – Where To Find The Date
First look on the bottle or tube. A few manufacturers are nice enough to print it clearly on the front or back label where it’s easy to find and to read. The bottle in the photo below says “EX04/2024”. (Pardon my amateur photography. It’s much easier to read in person!)
Unfortunately, lots of sunscreen in tubes has the expiration date embossed in raised letters on the “crimp strip” at the very end (bottom) of the tube. The date is the same color as the crimp strip, so it’s hard to see unless you have really good eyes. It helps to use a magnifying glass. The one below is easier to read than most. It says “EX2023/12”.
Another location to check is the bottom, especially on spray cans. The one pictured below is very clear, “Exp 06/2023”.
As a last resort, look on the label and find the manufacturer’s website. Sometimes, but not often, a company will offer expiration help on their website. For instance, there may be a code on your product that you can look up on the website, and that will tell you when that particular sunscreen was manufactured and/or when it expires.
More Information About Sunscreen Use and Expiration
Of course, in addition to having good sunscreen, you must use it properly in order for it to work properly. Whether you’re headed to my favorite Florida beach or your own backyard, the information below might help you stay safe.
- The Right Way to Wear Sunscreen, Consumer Reports
- Sunscreen: How to Select, Apply, and Use It Correctly, WebMD
- Sunscreen: Tips to wear it well, MD Anderson Cancer Center
Finally, the following articles provide good information, and they serve as a reminder that the use of sunscreens is a very important topic.
- Skin Cancer and Sun Exposure, WebMD
- Skin Cancer in People of Color, WebMD
- Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics, Skin Cancer Foundation
NOTE: If you’re curious about the sunscreen pictured on this page, below are links to the products on Amazon where you can read all about them. These are just some brands that I happen to like because they are reasonably priced and work well for me. However, unlike a lot of people I don’t burn easily. Only you can decide which brands and strengths are right for you.
Coppertone Sport – This I use all over, everywhere except my face. It stays on well, doesn’t have a strong fragrance, and works great for me.
Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen – I use this only on my face. It’s a thick, zinc sunscreen so it definitely shows when you first put it on, but I want that kind of heavy protection for my face. Also very important, it doesn’t burn if it gets in your eyes.
Sport (by Banana Boat) – I’m not a fan of spray sunscreen in general, but I do use it for one purpose – my feet! I always apply sunscreen before going out in the sun, but after staying on the beach a while you need to reapply it. At that point your feet and calves are sandy, so rubbing on lotion is not pleasant. For that one purpose, I love using the spray. Pictured is a Target brand, but I actually like the Banana Boat brand better.
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