As soon as the sunny season swings into full gear, you likely reach for the most important product in your beauty arsenal: sunscreen.
The problem? Many of us don’t apply SPF liberally during the colder months (even though we should!), meaning the bottle you’re reaching for was probably sitting in your cabinet for at least a year.
So, can you still use it? It depends. Here, dermatologists decode those expiration dates on your bottle of SPF.
Does sunscreen expire?
Just like the items in your medicine cabinet, sunscreen has an expiration date, so that old bottle may not do you much good. Even though you may want to believe that the “use-by” and “best-by” dates stamped on your favorite bottles and sprays are just a suggestion, that’s simply not the case.
“Sunscreen does indeed expire and will always have an expiration date printed somewhere on the packaging,” says Lauren Fine, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Chicago at Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology. “A sunscreen that’s expired will not work as well and increases your chance of getting a sunburn.” Not only is getting a burn painful, it can increase your risk of skin cancer—the most common cancer in the United States. Rule of thumb? Don’t use an SPF past its listed expiration date.
How to tell if your sunscreen is expired
Here’s the problem: Not all sunscreens include an expiration date on them, but the Food and Drug Administration does require that the product retain its original strength for three years. So if you buy a bottle and don’t see an expiration date listed, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends writing the date you bought the sunscreen on the bottle, so you know exactly when to get rid of it.
Another thing worth noting: If you bring your SPF along to the beach, and it sits in the heat and direct UV light, it may actually go bad before the expiration date, notes Lance Brown, M.D., board-certified surgical and cosmetic dermatologist in New York City.
To make sure your SPF is up to snuff, keep an eye out for any changes in its formula. If it starts to look, smell, or feel funky—toss it. Your sunscreen shouldn’t change in color or consistency, the AAD says.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to apply enough sunscreen if you want full UVA/UVB protection. Aim to use a shot glass-sized amount to cover exposed parts of your body and reapply it every two hours, says Dr. Fine. That means you shouldn’t even have to worry about expiration dates if you’re applying your SPF properly—a 4-ounce bottle should technically only last four applications.
Bottom line: If your sunscreen has passed its expiration date or has changed in color, smell, or consistency, throw it out and purchase a new one—your skin will thank you!
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