Unlike rotten fruit or that suspicious-smelling milk in your fridge, it can be hard to tell when skincare products are past their prime. And with SPF in particular, you certainly don’t want to risk it: sure, you might not immediately get sick from slathering on expired sunscreen, but you can certainly end up with a painful burn and bigger problems.
Still, you might be reading this and dismissing it as if it’s okay to keep using that half-empty bottle in your beach bag. But sunscreen expiration dates aren’t just a marketing ploy to get you to buy more, Kelly Dobos, MSc, MBA, a cosmetic chemist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, tells SELF. « The most important consequence is that you won’t get full protection from the sun if your sunscreen has deteriorated, » says Dobos (which protects you from harmful UV rays, lowers your risk of developing skin cancer and prevents sunburn and signs of photoaging, including wrinkles and hyperpigmentation). « Additionally, other skin care and makeup ingredients, such as some naturally occurring oils, can go rancid over time and cause skin irritation or breakouts. »
The best rule of thumb, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is to consider your SPF expired three years after you bought it, even if there’s no expiration date on the label and even if you’ve never opened it, adds Dobos. And you might want to throw it away even sooner if the tube has been left out in the sun all day, for example, or stored in your super-hot car because, yes, heat can speed up the deterioration of sunscreen, says- She.
So before you get that SPF lotion or spray you’ve had for two summers, read on to learn a few ways to find out if it’ll still work its skin-saving magic.
Check the expiration date.
Sounds easy and self-explanatory, doesn’t it? Some expiration dates are clearly displayed in bold and black ink, yes, but often they aren’t hiding in plain sight. For example, on sprays, the month, day and year will likely be stamped on the bottom of the bottle, Dobos says. On tubes, it is often printed at the very top. For some SPF creams and makeups, you may find a small icon that looks like an open jar (formerly known as the Period After Opening or POA symbol) with « 9M », « 12M », « 18M » or « 24M ». above. This indicates that the product remains effective 9, 12, 18 or 24 months after opening.