Does Sunscreen Expire?

Find out when most go bad—and why some don't have expiration dates

When summer rolls around, and you find some sunscreen that you still have from last year, you might wonder: Wait, does sunscreen expire? And if it has expired, does that mean you can't use it anymore? These are excellent questions to ask, and yes, it matters.

Read on to find out more information about sunscreen, expiration dates and what to look for, and why it matters if sunscreen has expired or not.

Woman putting on sunscreen
JGI / Jamie Grill / Blend Images / Getty Images 

Not All Sunscreens Have Expiration Dates

Most sunscreens have a three-year shelf life. In these cases, the FDA does not require an expiration date to be printed on the product's packaging. However, in sunscreen products that expire in less than three years, manufacturers are required to print an expiration date on the label.

This is not very helpful when you find a tube of sunscreen in the back of a drawer, and you can't remember when you bought it. Even if you did, it could already have been older stock on the shelf if you bought it on sale.

How to Tell Whether Sunscreen Has Expired

To determine whether sunscreen has expired, look for an expiration date on the label. If there is no expiration date, you can always call the customer service number on the label. Once you provide them with the codes printed on the bottle. The codes printed on the label track the date, batch, and location of where your bottle was manufactured. They can tell you whether or not your product has expired.

If you can't find any dates, look at the sunscreen itself. If it's a different color, watery, or chunky, it's likely expired. If it smells weird or different than it usually does, it's likely expired.

Tips

If you can't find the expiration date, write the date you bought it on the tube. That way you'll know when to throw it out.

Why Expiration Dates Matter

After sunscreens expire, the chemicals degrade and separate, making them less effective. Eventually, old sunscreens will crystallize and separate and may have a foul odor.

Keep in mind that extreme temperatures can also make sunscreen less effective, despite its expiration date. When in doubt, toss the old sunscreen you have and buy a new one.

Are You Using Enough?

If you find an old bottle of sunscreen around the house, it might be an indication that you aren't using enough when you apply it—or that you're not applying it daily. Applying sunscreen daily and correctly reduces the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

Not using enough sunscreen is a common mistake. In the summer, most adults need about one ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover their entire body. In the wintertime, you may be more covered up. When you're exposing less skin to the sun's UV rays, you don't have to use as much. However, you still need to protect the exposed skin, such as the hands and face.

And don't forget about exposure to the sun through car windows (especially on your left forearm and left hand) and perhaps through your office window. It's a good idea to put sunscreen on first thing in the morning after you shower—when you make it a habit, you're less likely to forget to do it. 

If you're stuck without sunscreen until you can get more, ensure you're as covered as possible: sunglasses, long sleeves, and staying in the shade.

Summary

Sunscreen is one of those things we tend to forget until we need it, and then we're left with looking at a bottle of it that's been sitting under our sink, wondering if it's okay to use. You should first look for an expiration date, but if you don't see one, check out the product itself.

Any changes in color, smell, or consistency usually mean it's likely expired. This matters because the sunscreen will be less effective if it's expired, leaving you susceptible to burns and sun damage.

A Word From VeryWell

When you get a new sunscreen, it's always a good idea to write the date you bought it on the bottle - and use it regularly to protect your skin from the sun. This way, you'll know when it's time to replace it. (And if you aren't replacing it regularly, this may be a sign to start using it more!).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you still use expired sunscreen?

    You can, but it may not protect you as well - or at all. The chemicals in it break down and degrade, making it lose its protective properties. It's better not to use the sunscreen.

  • Does sunscreen lose its effectiveness?

    Yes, if it is expired, it will not be as effective - or effective at all.

  • Can expired sunscreen give you a rash?

    It might, because the chemicals and ingredients start to break down and so you don't know what may cause skin irritation if you apply it to your body. It's better to just throw away the expired sunscreen.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed
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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. US FDA. CFR - Code of Federal Regulations title 21.

  2. American Cancer Society. Spend time outside and stay sun-safe. April 15, 2020.

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