1. Health 360°
  2. Beauty
  3. Skincare

Flo Fact-Checking Standards

Every piece of content at Flo Health adheres to the highest editorial standards for language, style, and medical accuracy. To learn what we do to deliver the best health and lifestyle insights to you, check out our content review principles.

When Does Sunscreen Expire? 3 Quick Ways to Check Sunscreen for Expiration

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing a sunburn or skin cancer is to use sunscreen. But how long does sunscreen last, and how do you avoid using expired sunscreen? Read on to find out how long sunscreen is good for.

If you like being outside in the sun, you need to protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun naturally emits UV radiation, which can cause cancers such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma of the skin. UV exposure can also lead to premature aging of the skin and increase the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.

Sunscreen offers a protective layer for the skin to shield it from harmful UV rays and reduce the risk of sunburn. Other types of protective measures include: 

  • Avoiding long periods of sun exposure, such as sunbathing
  • Wearing long layers, a hat, and sunglasses to shield your skin from the sun
  • Limiting sun exposure when the sun’s rays are the strongest (between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.), especially during the spring and summer months
  • Staying in the shade

There are many types of sunscreen available with different sun protection factor (SPF) levels. Whether you choose a mineral-based sunscreen, chemical sunscreen, or water-resistant sunscreen, many of the ingredients have a specific shelf life, meaning they’ll eventually lose their effectiveness. 

Certain health authorities have specific guidelines for how long sunscreen is good for. In the United States, for example, the Food and Drug Administration requires that all sunscreen have a shelf life of at least three years.

What if your bottle of sunscreen is sealed and hasn’t been opened yet? Can you still use it? When it comes to protecting your skin, it’s best to be cautious. If you’ve had an unopened bottle of sunscreen for more than three years or it’s past its expiration date, it may not be able to provide you with the necessary protection against UV rays. 

Sunscreen is only effective if you use it properly. Some general guidelines for wearing sunscreen include:

  • Put sunscreen on your skin at least 15 minutes before you go outside.
  • Reapply it regularly if you’re spending lots of time outside. At a minimum, you should reapply sunscreen every two hours — more often if you are sweating or swimming.
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 — higher if you’re outside for long periods when the sun is at its strongest. 

Other safety tips for using sunscreen include:

  • Don’t apply it on skin that is damaged, broken, or blistered. 
  • Avoid getting sunscreen in your eyes. If you get sunscreen in your eyes, wash your hands and rinse your eyes with water.
  • Speak with a health care provider if you get a rash from using sunscreen. You may be allergic to one or more of the ingredients.

Check your skin regularly for any abnormalities such as new moles or sun damage. Speak with a health care provider if you have any concerns about your skin and sun exposure.

If you’re wondering how long sunscreen is good for, you’re not alone. Most sunscreen manufacturers put an expiration date on their product that will tell you whether or not your sunscreen is still effective.

Here are some of the ways you can check for a sunscreen expiration date.

Most sunscreen containers will have an expiration date stamped somewhere on the bottle itself. 

Check for an ink stamp that says “best before,” “use by,” “expires on,” or “EXP,” followed by a month and year. The stamp may appear on the label or the bottle. Check the sides and bottom of the container when looking for the expiration date. 

Some plastic bottles might use embossing, rather than ink. Look for raised print on the bottle, typically on the bottom of the bottle.

If your bottle doesn’t have an expiration date, you can still keep track of the three-year shelf life. Once you’ve purchased the sunscreen, write the date of purchase in permanent marker on the container itself.

Sometimes, sunscreen containers show the date when the product was bottled, rather than the expiration date. In that case, use three years from the date it was made to determine your sunscreen’s expiration date.

Regardless of the sunscreen’s expiration date, you should only use sunscreen if its consistency hasn’t changed. If the texture, smell, or color is different from when you first purchased it, then the sunscreen may have gone bad.

Even if the sunscreen is less than three years old, it can still go bad. Sunscreen can lose its effectiveness if the container is left open or if other materials get into the bottle. The chemical balance of the ingredients can also change if sunscreen is stored for long periods in hot, cold, or humid environments.

Store sunscreen at room temperature and out of direct sunlight whenever possible. Keep the container closed when not in use.

The US guidelines for sunscreen expiration say that the sunscreen has to maintain its strength and effectiveness for three years. Any sunscreen that expires before or after three years has weakened UV-resistant agents, making them less effective.

UV-resistant agents either absorb or block the sun’s harmful UV rays. Broad-spectrum sunscreens reduce exposure to both UVA and UVB rays. Some common UVA-blocking agents in sunscreen include benzophenones, anthranilates, and avobenzone. UVB blockers include aminobenzoate, cinnamates, salicylates, and octocrylene. 

It’s best not to use expired sunscreen because the effectiveness cannot be guaranteed.

Sunscreen is an essential safeguard against the damage that UV rays can cause your skin. Most sunscreens are only effective for three years after they’re made, so check your sunscreen expiration date before you use it.

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/uv-radiation.html
https://www.fda.gov/media/85172/download
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/best-sunscreen/art-20045110
https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sunscreen/
https://time.com/5279096/does-sunscreen-expire/
https://www.consumerreports.org/sunscreens/does-sunscreen-have-an-expiration-date/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sunscreen-expire/faq-20057957
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemistry/sunscreening-agent
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537164/
https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543289/
https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/sunscreen.pdf

Read this next