How To Know If It's Time To Throw Out Your Sunscreen

by Joanna McClanahan
Originally Published: 
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We’re well into summer now, and it is HOT. Which means many of our days are spent by the beach/lake/pool to stay cool. But when you’re packing your bag full of swimsuits, towels, and other necessities, be sure to check the expiration date on that sunscreen.

Yes, sunscreen expires. And over time, it becomes completely ineffective against harmful UV rays.

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According to CNBC, sunscreen chemical formulas are made with active SPF ingredients like oxybenzone that become less stable as they age. Mineral versions of sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide also lose their ability to protect you as they get older.

“Sunscreen absolutely expires and should never be used past its expiration date,” Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, told Allure. “Like food, sunscreen can go bad and the ingredients can spoil, leading to a watery consistency. They also become less effective, which means a significant increase in the potential for sunburns, sun damage, brown spots, and the risk for skin cancer development.”

It’s important to check expiration dates to make sure you (and your family) are protected. Depending on the brand, your sunscreen might list the expiration on the back or bottom of the bottle. Sometimes there will be an open jar icon with “12M” or “18M” next to it, this means those sunscreens are only good for 12 months or 18 months, respectively.

According to Southern Living, Banana Boat sunscreen packaging comes with a code that looks like, “15090CF,” which marks when the sunscreen was created. The first two numbers in the code mark the creation year (“15” stands for 2015), and the next three numbers mark the day within the year the sunscreen was made (“090” stands for the 90th day in the year, which is March 31st). Their sunscreens are formulated to last three years, so you can use the code (and do the math) to see how long you’ve owned the bottle.

If there’s no expiration date listed, it’s assumed that the sunscreen is most likely formulated to last three years after you open it. But even if your sunscreen is from last summer, there are other factors that might make the SPF spoil faster than normal:

“If you store your sunscreen in a warm place, like a car, by a pool, or in your purse, it will expire faster due to the heat,” Erin Gilbert, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, told Allure. “If it has been exposed to heat, you should replace it every few months, just to be sure it is still effective.”

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The bottom line is that, regardless of the expiration date, it’s always a good idea to test the consistency before using it. “Check for changes in texture, like clumping or pilling, or changes in smell,” said Gilbert. “If your sunscreen starts to have a funny smell, it likely indicates that it has been contaminated with bacteria.” Again, this goes for both chemical and mineral sunscreens.

Some other helpful sunscreen tips:

Use a high SPF for optimal protection. Studies have shown that SPF 100 is the best form of skin protection.

Make sure you’re using the correct amount. One ounce (about the size of a shot glass) should be used for the face and body.

Wear it year-round. Your skin needs protection from UV rays all year long, not just during the summer months.

Don’t forget to reapply it. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours (or whatever is indicated on the bottle).

Don’t depend on it alone for sun coverage. Sunscreen may not be enough to fully protect you from the sun, so don’t forget sun umbrellas, hats, sunglasses, and SPF wear.

So now you and your family are ready for some fun (and safe) time in the sun! As for me, I’ll be inside, curled up next to the AC.


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