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Expert Advice

Answered: Does Sunscreen Really Expire?

Yes, sunscreen does expire. And learning how long sunscreen lasts is key to keeping skin protected. Here, we’re answering all your SPF expiration questions.

Picture this: It’s the start of summer. You’re rushing to get out the door and enjoy the sunshine. Then you remember, you need SPF. You dig around under your bathroom counter, and your hand connects with a bottle of something—the sunscreen you used so diligently last summer. And to your pleasant surprise, there’s still plenty of product inside. The question you need to ask, however, is whether that sunscreen is still good to use.

Sunscreen expiration is an important topic that you may not have paid much mind to in the past. Using any product that’s gone bad is ill-advised because it may not do its job correctly. And, of course, sun protection is among the most critical of jobs any skincare product can serve. That’s why we want to answer all your questions about if sunscreen expires and how long you should hold on to a bottle of SPF. Here, we’re breaking down what you should know.

Does Sunscreen Expire?

As the saying goes: All good things must come to an end. You could probably spend a little time thinking it over and come up with a million areas this cliche is relevant. We’ll add one more to your list—sunscreen. These skin-protecting formulas are no-doubt good, but they can’t last forever. Eventually, you’ll finish the bottle, or the product will expire. Yes, sunscreen does, in fact, have an expiration date.

Sunscreens are considered a non-prescription drug and are regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. As part of this regulation, the FDA requires that all sunscreens last for at least three years without losing their potency. Some, but not all, sunscreens have an expiration date printed on their bottle. This makes it easy to know when it’s time to toss an old formula.

For SPF products that don’t have a date printed, you’ll want to keep track of when they were purchased. If they weren’t purchased within the last three years, assume the formula has expired. After buying a new sunscreen, you can also grab a permanent marker and write the date of purchase on the bottle to help down the line when you’re trying to remember how long you’ve had it.

When it’s time to replace your sunscreen, we recommend our Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+. The lightweight formula protects skin not only against UVA and UVB rays but pollution as well. It also absorbs quickly and has a matte finish.

Keep in mind, expiration dates don’t only apply to sunscreens but also any product with SPF. To restock your moisturizer with SPF, pick up Ultra Facial Cream SPF 30. It offers broad-spectrum protection while also providing skin with up to 24-hour hydration. If you have anti-aging concerns, try Super Multi-Corrective Cream SPF 30, which defends skin with broad-spectrum SPF 30 UV protection while also visibly lifting and smoothing the skin.

Kiehl’s Tip: Skincare products, like moisturizer with SPF, also typically feature a small symbol on the back or bottom of the container that indicates their shelf-life. Look for a jar icon with a number and the letter ‘M’ inside. This tells you how many months to keep the product.

What Happens If You Use Expired Sunscreen?

Worries about being wasteful or getting the most out of a purchase may make you hesitate to throw out expired products. But it is true that you shouldn’t use expired formulas, especially sunscreen. With a skincare product that’s so essential, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Sunscreen expiration dates aren’t assigned arbitrarily. SPF does, in fact, become less efficacious over time. And once the expiration date has passed, there’s no assurance that the formula is still safe and effective at protecting your skin. Using an expired sunscreen and leaving your skin inadequately protected can result in burns, visibly sun-damaged skin (including premature wrinkles), and even skin cancer.

How Can You Tell If Sunscreen Has Expired?

The best way to tell if sunscreen has expired is to check the expiration date or, as we mentioned, think back to when the formula was purchased. It’s also a good idea—and this applies to any skincare product—to pay attention to changes in how the formula looks, feels, and smells. Just as you can confirm milk has gone bad because it has a spoiled odor or its consistency is thicker than normal, any change to your sunscreen could be a sign that it has gone bad.

How Can You Prevent Sunscreen From Expiring?

All sunscreens will expire eventually, but there are steps you can take to help them last as long as they’re supposed to. Every bottle of sunscreen should say, “Protect the product in this container from excessive heat and direct sun,” because sun exposure can impact the formula. When bringing sunscreen outdoors, keep it in the shade or wrapped in a towel. For long beach days, you can also store sunscreen in a cooler.

How Long Does Sunscreen Last?

As you now know, sunscreen formulas are meant to last for at least three years. With that said, if you use sunscreen regularly (as you should), it’s unlikely a bottle of SPF will stick around for that long. For each application, most people need about one ounce for their face and body. To help you visualize, that’s enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass.

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