Does Sunscreen Expire?

Cynthia Bailey, MD|June 20, 2016

Many sunscreens are labeled with an expiration date but can you trust the expiration date of a sunscreen?

The answer is no. Storage conditions are important too!  Sunscreen stored in excessively hot or cold temperatures (like your car or beach bag) can break down.

What about sunscreens that don't have expiration dates, are they good for years?

No!  The FDA requires that a sunscreen product remain stable for 3 years after manufacturing but that’s not helpful because heck, when was that tube of sunscreen made that you’re holding?  And again, how was it stored?

If you don’t know with certainty where your sunscreen has been and how old it is, don’t trust it.  Sunburns are bad, period!  According to Neil Box PhD, Investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at the School of Medicine, 

"We’re still waiting for a definitive one-sunburn study to show us exactly how much melanoma risk increases with one blistering burn, but to the best of our knowledge, it seems like the answer is about 50 percent.  One bad burn as a child makes you half-again more likely to develop melanoma as an adult,”

It's easy to make a mistake.  At my house, even though we have an in-house dermatologist, we've still fallen for the 'it looks perfectly fine so we'll use it' old sunscreen ruse.  For years, my earnest and hardworking husband would climb on the tractor to mow the high grass in early spring slathered with sunscreen he pulled out of our kitchen ‘junk drawer’.  Armed with a hat, a face mask for pollen and his skin coated in old sunscreen, he would spend a beautiful spring Saturday driving back and forth on our country property..... and he’d get burnt.  He be stunned.  That old tube of sunscreen looked ok on the outside and never exceeded its expiration date, but it had been around, which was how it made it to the junk drawer.  That's one of the reasons I say, "If you want a nice sunburn use last year’s sunscreen!"

Now I keep a closer watch over the sunscreen supply at our house.  I chuck any tube of questionable history before someone I love uses it.  I go through my husband’s tennis bag, his bathroom cabinet, his truck, the kid’s bathrooms, the kitchen ‘junk drawer’, travel kits and any other place the people I love might have squirreled away a tube of sunscreen. I chuck the old stuff and give ‘em a brand new tube every spring.

Spring clean your sunscreens.  Throw away any old sunscreens and start fresh.  Remember that when any skin care product sits in the heat or cold for too long it isn't the same.  It''s too important to get things right when it comes to sunscreen. When in doubt, throw it out.  Buy a new supply and know you are safe.  If a product smells, looks or feels "off" then it probably is, so err on the side of caution and throw it away.  It’s not worth the permanent damage you will suffer from even that one surprise sunburn.

What else can I do to keep my family sun-safe?

ASK yourself if you're protected.  Make sure your family has sunscreen for all of their activities and needs.  Everyone should have a water resistant product, a daily use product for the face and daily use product for the rest of your body.  

I also strongly recommend you make sure that they love their sunscreens so that they will happily wear them.  One of our favorite, new, crowd-pleasing sunscreens is our Sheer Strength Pure Physical Spray Sunscreen.  My entire household is using that daily and is my husband's favorite.  I love Suntegrity 5 in 1 BB Cream for my face.  My daughter loves Citrix and my son uses Solbar Zinc.

I also make sure everyone has sun hats, UV blocking sunglasses and Coolibar sun protection clothing too. For any skeptics, I give them a Detecto Ring and tell them to see for themselves if they are exposed!


Do you "spring-clean" and toss your old sunscreens?  Which sunscreen products are your favorites?  Join the conversation with us below by sharing, commenting, liking, pinning and tweeting!  We love to hear from you!

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Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration 21 CFR Parts 201, 310, and 352 Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use; Final Rules and Proposed Rules

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