As the days get hotter and people are spending more time in the sun, it's more important than ever to make sure you're wearing sunscreen. Unfortunately, the bottle you have lying around may not do the trick. Not all sunscreen is good sunscreen, and that's especially true if it's not performing its job as needed, leaving your skin vulnerable to harmful UV rays. That can lead to a flurry of health and skin issues, including skin cancer. Fortunately, experts say there are ways to know your sunscreen isn't working before you put your skin at risk. Read on to find out when you should throw away your bottle to protect yourself.
If your sunscreen starts to change color or consistency, throw it away.
If you start pouring out your sunscreen and it doesn't look like it normally does, you should question it. According to the Children's Skin Center, if your sunscreen has lost its original color or consistency, you need to throw it away. Things like clumping or a watery consistency are clear signs that your sunscreen has expired. Yes, sunscreen can go bad and its ingredients can spoil, Shari Marchbein, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, told Allure.
Expired sunscreen is less effective and potentially harmful.
You should never use your sunscreen after it expires, according to Marchbein. Expired sunscreen is "less effective, which means a significant increase in the potential for sunburns, sun damage, brown spots, and the risk for skin cancer development," she told Allure.
Not only that, but expired sunscreens can also irritate your skin, Jessica Wu, MD, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist, told Refinery29. "Over time, ingredients can break down and cause skin irritation and allergic reactions," Wu explained. "Expired sunscreens can also start to grow mold or bacteria, leading to skin infections."
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Storing your sunscreen in the heat can cause it to expire faster.
According to Insider, exposure to extreme temperatures or light can speed up your sunscreen's expiration. Heat breaks down the active ingredients in sunscreen that protect against UV rays, which happens to sunscreen regardless but at a slower pace if not exposed to too much heat. If you leave a bottle in your car over the summer, you may notice clear signs of expiration even if your sunscreen's expiration date has not yet passed.
Henry Lim, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in the Dermatology Department of the Henry Ford Health System, told Insider that "sunscreen, a lot of the time, needs to be maintained at room temperature and without significant exposure to light" to keep it from expiring faster than it should.
You don't necessarily have to throw out your sunscreen if there's no expiration date on it.
If your sunscreen does not have an expiration date on it, you may not need to toss it immediately, however. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sunscreens are required to have an expiration date unless the product has been proven to remain stable for at least three years. "That means, a sunscreen product that doesn't have an expiration date should be considered expired three years after purchase," the FDA says. But if it's been more than three years since you bought it and there's no expiration date? Toss it. The FDA says "expired sunscreens should be discarded because there is no assurance that they remain safe and fully effective."