Does Sunscreen Expire? Expired Sunscreen Explained

Next Article Previous Article

Does Sunscreen Expire? Understanding Sunscreen Expiration

It’s an age-old question every time summer comes around as you’re pulling your beach gear out of storage: “Does sunscreen expire?” The answer, in short, is yes. In this guide, you’ll learn all you need to know about that half-empty bottle of SPF 50 buried in the bottom your tote bag and whether to toss it or lather up.

How Long Does Sunscreen Last?

Most sunscreens expire after three years. Check the label on the bottle for specific dates and make sure you don’t buy any new sunscreen due to expire in less than a year. For sunscreens without expiration dates, keep track of the purchase date and throw away any unused portion after three years. The ingredients in both chemical and mineral sunscreens degrade over time and have proven to be much less effective or even damaging to the skin after this period. In some cases, if the sunscreen is exposed to excessive heat or moisture, the degradation of these ingredients can be accelerated. To mitigate this risk, make sure all used sunscreen is stored correctly.

How to Tell if Sunscreen Is Expired

Going back to that half-used bottle of SPF 50 in your tote — there’s a few ways to tell if it’s expired even if there are no dates on the label and you can’t remember when you bought it. Here are a few indicators that your sunscreen has gone the way of the two-month-old carton of milk:

  • Change in color. Expired chemical sunscreens tend to degrade to a dingy yellow color — looking more like Dijonaise than the ivory white lotion you remember buying.
  • Change in texture. Time will take its toll on sunscreen formulas — especially when not stored properly. In cases of expired mineral sunscreens, you’ll notice the active ingredients and dispersants tend to separate, creating a runny liquid. You’ll also notice a grainy texture in SPF that’s surpassed its age limit.
  • Change in smell: Like most things that grow too old, expired sunscreens tend to have an “off” scent. When your bottle that used to “Smell Like Summer” now smells like something else, you know it’s time for a new one.

What Happens if You Use Expired Sunscreen?

To put it simply: don’t use expired sunscreen. There are a few factors involved that may cause out-of-date SPF to do more harm than good. For one, the effectiveness of old sunscreen is greatly diminished, putting you at the risk of sun burn or sun damage even though you think you’re covered. There’s also the risk of contaminants or bacteria in your expired bottle (especially if it wasn’t sealed properly), increasing the likelihood of skin irritation, rash or worse.

What to Do with Expired Sunscreen

After determining that your sunscreen is indeed expired, it’s best to recycle the bottle by following the recycling instructions on the label. This typically includes washing out the old product, removing the labeling and caps, etc. Proper recycling will give your discarded bottle the best chance of another fulfilling life in the form of PCR (Post Consumer Recycled) plastic.

Tips for Storing Sunscreen

How do you ensure your sunscreen doesn’t go bad before the three-year mark? Make sure it’s living its best life in storage. A few tips:

  • Don’t leave it in your car. Cars turn into mini-ovens every time the sun is out and your sunscreen formula doesn’t like to be baked.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, like in a drawer or cabinet INSIDE (not in the garage). 
  • Finally, don’t invite unwanted organisms. Clean off and seal the cap after every use.

Sunscreen Expiration FAQs

Is It OK to Use Expired Sunscreen?

Avoid using expired sunscreen. It’s generally agreed that the shelf life of a fully effective sunscreen is no more than three years. After that, the active ingredients degrade, lessening their effect on protecting you from the harmful effects of the sun.

What Does Expired Sunscreen Look Like?

Expired sunscreen is easy to detect since it results in the formula breaking down. Look for loose liquid mixed with chunky lotion (due to separation), a dingy yellowish color and an “off” scent. If any of the above are a, “Yes,” your sunscreen is ready for retirement.

Can Expired Sunscreen Cause a Rash?

Expired sunscreen has the capability of causing a rash — especially a bottle that hasn’t been cleaned or closed properly after each use. In these cases, it’s each for bacteria to grow and, when applied to your skin, can cause irritation or a break-out.