Does Sunscreen Expire?

Hannah Cline's picture
By Hannah Cline on May 20, 2019

Memorial Day is right around the corner. Neighborhood pools are about to open (except Carilion Wellness, which is already open - woohoo!) and for many of us that means pulling swim suits, floaties and of course that stockpile of unused sunscreen out of storage.

The question is will that sunscreen be just as effective the second time around?

To make things interesting, 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.

So 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
  • When you buy a new bottle, write the date of purchase on it with permanent marker and toss it if you have had it for more than 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 usually call the customer service number for the sunscreen and provide specific information from your bottle in order to check expiration.
  • Keep sunscreen stored in cool temperatures, as the active ingredients can be damaged when exposed to hot conditions.
Close up of hands putting sunscreen on at the beach.
Use a generous amount of sunscreen and reapply it every two hours.

All of that being said, it is not great that we have to deal with sunscreen expiration in the first place!

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.

In theory, we should not be stockpiling. Instead, sunscreen should be used up long before its expiration.

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.