Ask the Expert: When Do You Have to Toss Sunscreen?
We’ve said it a million times over, but for the sake of driving home the message even further we’ll say it again: sunscreen use throughout every single day is one of the most important skin care steps you can take. As such, water-resistant, broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher has a permanent spot in our arsenals year-round, and it should in yours too! That said, you don’t want the same SPF formula to overstay its welcome on your beauty shelf, which begs the question: how long is too long to hold onto a bottle of sunscreen? We address that, and more, ahead.
LOOK FOR AN EXPIRATION DATE
The first thing you should do before applying sunscreen is check the expiration date plastered on the bottle. This will specify the time limit for the product’s stability and efficacy. If the expiration date has gone and went, toss the sunscreen and buy a new one.
According to the Mayo Clinic, sunscreens are designed to stay at strength for three years. While most formulas should have an expiration date listed, yours may not. Should that be the case, think back to when you first purchased it. If you can’t remember when you first purchased the formula, consider tossing it for a fresh one to be extra cautious. Moving forward, it’s always good practice to write the date of purchase on any sunscreen bottles that don’t list an explicit expiration date. That way you can be sure to throw it out within three years.
STORE SUNSCREEN PROPERLY
Consumer Reports retested samples of select sunscreens and compared them to the previous year’s testing and found that their performance did not suffer. But—and this is a big BUT—where you store your sunscreen year-after -year matters. Has your sunscreen been sitting in your trunk or glove compartment since last summer? Toss it. Active ingredients in the formulas of sunscreen products may be susceptible to breaking down in environments of high heat, which may reduce formula’s shelf life. For best results, store your sunscreen in a cool place.
CHECK FOR CHANGES
As mentioned, sunscreens are designed to stay “fresh” for three years so long as they’re stored properly. However, it’s smart to check the product for any obvious changes in consistency, texture, smell, and/or color before use—even if it hasn’t expired. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, go ahead and toss it. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
MAKE SURE YOU’RE APPLYING THE PROPER AMOUNT
If you consistently have sunscreen that’s lasting you years and years, chances are you’re not applying the proper amount and/or not applying frequently enough. Generally, a liberal application is about one ounce—enough to fill a shot glass—to cover exposed parts of the body. This amount can vary from person to person depending on body size, but reapplications should take place at least every two hours (sooner if you sweat profusely, towel-dry, or go for a dip in the pool, ocean, or body of water). To put the amount per use into perspective, you should use about one-fourth of a 4-ounce bottle of sunscreen during one application. As such, it’s very possible that one bottle of sunscreen won’t even last you through a full weekend if there’s plenty of sun exposure taking place.
TAKE ADDITIONAL PRECAUTIONS
Keep in mind that there’s currently no sunscreen out there that can fully protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. As we inch closer and closer to summer—when beach days, BBQs, and other outdoor activities will be far more frequent—it’s important to know that sunscreen alone cannot fully reduce your chances of skin damage. Luckily, there are still ways you can enjoy all that fun in the sun this summer without risking unwanted damage to your skin. In order to offer the best protection for your body’s largest organ, pair your daily broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen use (and frequent reapplication) with other sun protection measures, such as those listed below.
1. Wear Protective Clothing: We know, we know. It’s hot out there! We’re not suggesting you wear a turtleneck on the beach, but the more skin you can cover, the better. Reach for breathable, lightweight fabrics that won’t weigh you down in the heat. A wide-brimmed sunhat and UV-blocking sunglasses are also a good investment to help protect your facial skin. Since repeated facial expressions can lead to unwanted wrinkles and expression lines over time, you’ll definitely want to block those rays from causing you to squint!
2. Seek Shade: As wonderful as the heat may feel on our skin, we could all use a little break from the sun. If you’re laying out, head to a covered awning or head indoors away from direct sunlight from time to time. Keep in mind that UV rays can penetrate through windows, so even innocuous activities like driving or sitting in a window seat can cause harm.
3. Avoid Peak Sun Hours: The sun’s rays are most direct and powerful between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so it’s ideal to avoid sun exposure completely during this period if possible. If you must be outside, seek shade under a tree or umbrella in addition to wearing broad spectrum SPF sunscreen.