Does Sunscreen Expire?

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By News Team on May 20, 2021

It's not officially summer yet, but it sure feels like it! Area pools are opening (Carilion Wellness pools are already open!) and for many of us that means pulling swim suits, floaties and a stockpile of old sunscreen out of storage.

Will that sunscreen be just as effective the second time around? And how will you know? A lot of sunscreen bottles are not printed with an expiration date.

 The FDA requires that sunscreens have a shelf life of at least three years.

Instead of gambling with sun exposure, follow these guidelines and tips from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and AAD (American Academy of Dermatology) to know when your sunscreen has passed its peak.

  • For effective coverage, the AAD recommends broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30
  • If no expiration date is printed, the FDA requires that sunscreens have a shelf life of at least three years
  • If you are unsure of purchase date, check the sunscreen’s color, consistency and smell; if any of those seem odd, play it safe and throw out the bottle
  • You can call the manufacturer's customer service line to be sure; have your bottle in hand so you can provide specific information

Follow these tips when you buy sunscreen and you'll never wonder about its effectiveness: 

  • Write the date of purchase on it with permanent marker and toss it after three years
  • Store it inside rather than in your vehicle, as the active ingredients can be damaged when exposed to hot conditions
  • Better yet, don't stockpile sunscreen at all, but use it up!
Close up of hands putting sunscreen on at the beach.
Use a generous amount of sunscreen and reapply it every two hours.

In theory, we should be using sunscreen up long before its expiration. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it takes about one ounce of sunscreen, “enough to fill a shot glass,” to cover all of the exposed areas during daily activities, and it is meant to be reapplied every two hours.

So here is a friendly reminder that you should keep your sunscreen out of storage and in use, avoiding the expiration debacle all together and protecting yourself from the sun's harmful rays all year long!

This article was reviewed by Carilion Clinic Dermatology and Mohs Surgery.

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