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Does Sunscreen Expire? Every Sunscreen Question, Answered


“Does sunscreen expire?” is something you’ve probably wondered as you’re rummaging around in your old beach bag. While it’s easy to track down your holy-grail formula, what happens when you don’t know when to toss it? Like most cosmetics, sunblock products like mineral sunscreen and zinc oxide sunscreen do have a shelf life, meaning you have to be mindful of the expiration date of sunscreen for face use, especially as temperatures are rising and we’re heading into the summer. No one likes having sunburned lips or furiously searching for easy sunburn treatments.

As someone who grew up in South Florida applying sunscreen so thick I looked like a snowman in the middle of the summer, it wasn’t uncommon to find at least ten to fifteen half-empty sunscreen bottles while poking around my bathroom shelf. Ask anyone living near a beach and they’ll tell you the same thing: more often than not, we’re all sunscreen hoarders.

Dr. Joshua Zeichner MD, Associate Professor of Dermatology and the Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital and practitioner at 85th Street Skin & Laser Center in New York, also stresses the importance of wearing sunscreen to Glamour—regardless of whether or not it’s expired. From the best sunscreens for your face to benzene-free sunscreen, Dr. Zeichner can’t recommend it enough. 

To save you from looking like a bright red tomato this summer, we’re breaking down every single one of your (sun)burning questions about sunblock. How much is too much? What if it smells weird? Is there a difference between what you put on your face versus your body? 

Bottom line though: make sure you apply as much as you can. You don’t want to end up searching how to get rid of a sunburn fast later this summer.

Does sunscreen expire?

According to Dr. Zeichner, sunscreens do have an expiration date, so they should be thrown away after that date passes. After that date, the company can no longer guarantee that a product works best. 

Is it OK to use sunscreen that has expired?

When it comes to applying expired sunblock versus none at all, Dr. Zeichner recommends using what you have even if it’s old. “That being said, expired sunscreen likely will not give you the same level of protection that it gave when it first was produced,” he explained. How does sunscreen work, you may ask? The more recent the product was created, the higher chances it does the job in protecting your skin at its protection level. So, if you wear SPF 50 UV-blocking sunscreen that’s been sitting at the bottom of your drawer for years, it may not protect your skin as well as it did when you first purchased it. 

How long does sunscreen last after its expiration date?

Sunscreen can last for up to three years after the expiration date, but if you’re in a pinch, you can technically use it unless your skin is extremely sensitive and develops rashes or you experience discomfort. If not, apply ahead! There’s a catch though—expired sunscreen may not work as well. If you use an expired product, it’s best to reapply it several times on top of wearing protective clothing, glasses, and brimmed hats. 

How do you know if sunscreen is expired?

For one, the smell, consistency, and color can be off. Since it varies by brand though, it’s best to toss your sun protection creams every three years. 

How much sunscreen should I be using?

According to Dr. Zeichner, a quarter-sized dollop should be good for your face. For your body, an ounce should suffice. “Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours,” he said. “That means that the 4 ounce bottle that you bought for Memorial Day should be gone once the weekend is over if you were using it the right way. If you still have your Memorial Day weekend bottle on Labor Day, then you definitely are not using as much as you should be.”

What can you do with old sunscreen?

Apply it! However, if you have a new bottle of sunscreen, you should probably use that one and toss your older formula to guarantee the best protection from harmful UV rays. 

What’s the best way to store sunscreen?

Although most sunscreens can withstand immense heat and sweltering conditions, Dr. Zeichner recommends storing your bottle at room temperature. “That being said, I do not recommend leaving a bottle of sunscreen on the dashboard of your car during peak summer heat as it will challenge the stability of the formula,” he cautioned. “Instead, especially on a hot day, store your sunscreen next to your beach cooler to keep the temperature down. ”

Whats the best SPF for face versus body?

To be honest, it’s kind of a marketing ploy. According to Dr. Zeichner, face sunscreen and body sunscreen are as equally effective, and the difference mostly boils down to the aesthetics of the product and additives into the formula, like antioxidants.

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