How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

Does sunscreen expire? How to tell if it’s gone bad

The color, consistency, and odor of your sunscreen can help tell you if it’s still good to use.

Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team
Sep 01, 2022 · 7 min read

Share
hand of young woman applying sunscreen
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
  1. blog
  2. > Skin Concerns
  3. > Does sunscreen expire? How to tell if it’s gone bad

Ever wonder about that tube of sunscreen at the bottom of your beach bag or in the medicine cabinet that’s been there since who knows when—at least last summer? If you’re questioning if a year-old bottle of sunscreen will still protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays, the answer is probably, yes: Sunscreen is good for three years from the purchase date or the expiration date on the bottle. But what if you can’t remember when you bought it? Or what if the color or consistency just doesn’t seem right? Then, it's probably time to ditch the old for the new.

Does sunscreen expire?

In short, yes, sunscreen can go bad. But exactly when does sunscreen expire? Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations require sunscreen to have an expiration date or show that the product will remain stable for at least three years.¹ So, if yours doesn’t have a specific date, you should discard your sunscreen three years from the date of purchase (even if it’s never been opened). One easy way to remember the purchase date of any new sunscreen you buy is to write it on the bottle with a permanent marker.

If you use sunscreen as directed,  it shouldn’t last long enough for it to expire. Just be sure to store it out of direct sunlight in a relatively cool place (more on that in a bit). Sunscreen can’t prevent all harm from UV rays, but we highly recommend using it because it’s still one of the most effective ways to minimize signs of aging and the risks of skin cancer.

Using sunscreen effectively

Sunscreen only works if you use it properly. Here are some tips for applying sunscreen to get the most protection from UV rays. 

  • Apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen after your moisturizer and about 15 minutes before going into the sun to give it enough time to form a protective barrier. 

  • Don’t forget to apply sunscreen on your hairline, behind your ears, on your eyelids, under your nose, and on your neck! 

  • Put on more than you think you need. Most people use less than what’s recommended, so don’t be afraid of overdoing it. For proper sun protection, your body should be covered in about enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass.²  

  • Try using a sunscreen that goes on white and dries clear to see that you’ve covered your entire face and body and didn’t leave any unprotected areas.

  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen if you’re swimming or sweating and reapply as directed on the sunscreen bottle – usually every two hours or after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.³ 

If you get breakouts, it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients in any product you use on your skin. Avoid products with comedogenic ingredients like coconut oil or potentially irritating ingredients like added fragrance. You're way more likely to use sunscreen if it's not causing breakouts or irritating your skin!

How to spot an expired sunscreen

The FDA warns that sunscreen may not be safe or fully effective past its expiration date,⁴ but what if you don’t know it? Here are some telltale signs to know whether your sunscreen has gone bad: 

  • Consistency: Expired sunscreen can feel grainy or watery, or it “separates.” 

  • Color: Expired sunscreen can take on a different shade than when it was new.

  • Smell: If it’s “off,” it’s probably time to toss it.

Some people, especially those with sensitive skin, may develop a rash from using expired sunscreen (also called irritant contact dermatitis). You also might be wondering if there’s a difference between chemical sunscreen and mineral (or physical) sunscreen: Does mineral sunscreen expire? It does, but it’s typically more photostable than chemical sunscreen—meaning it’s less likely to degrade because of exposure to sunlight.⁵ But still store it in a cool, dark place!

Most likely, you won’t experience a negative reaction if you use expired sunscreen—but you will probably get less protection from the sun–not a good idea! Using expired sunscreen can give a false sense of security that you’re protecting your skin from the sun’s rays when you’re actually not. Wearing sunscreen that’s possibly expired is just not worth the risk, and besides, there’s a better way to get a ”sun-kissed” tan anyway—without the sun.

Is expired sunscreen better than no sunscreen? Probably. It’s unlikely that a sunscreen’s protection drops to zero once it expires. But again, if you’re using your sunscreen as directed and reapplying at least every two hours, you’ll use it all long before it’s had a chance to expire. 

Ways to help out your sunscreen

young woman applying sunscreen

No sunscreen can protect you from UV rays 100%, so it’s important to also remember to take additional steps to help minimize the time you spend in the sun: 

  • Seek a shady area to avoid sun damage. 

  • Wear sunglasses with a UV400 rating or labeled “100% UV protection.”⁶

  • Wear a large-brimmed hat, long sleeves, and coverups. 

  • Keep a long-sleeve shirt with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) in your car for those impromptu full-sun hikes. Keep in mind that while sun-protective clothing helps, it’s always best to layer clothing with sunscreen.

  • Avoid the sun during peak hours (10 am-4 pm).

Tips for storing sunscreen

Now, the question on everyone’s mind when summertime rolls around: Does sunscreen go bad in the heat? Not exactly, but extreme heat and direct sun can cause your sunscreen to break down more quickly. The FDA recommends keeping your sunscreen wrapped in a towel or stored in the shade or cooler when you’re out for the day.⁷ Here are a few other tips for storing sunscreen: 

  • Always close the lid firmly.  

  • Store in a dark place at room temperature, like a medicine cabinet, or as recommended on the package.  

  • Don’t leave your sunscreen lotion, gel, or spray in a hot car—especially if you regularly park in the direct sun!

The key takeaway is? Always use sunscreen as directed on the label. If you do, you’ll use it long before you need to worry about whether it’s expired.

How to dispose of expired sunscreen will vary depending on where you live. In some areas, you will be able to recycle the bottle—check with your local municipality for details. (If you're a Curology member, you can recycle the tube body and cap, but not the pump. Before recycling, be sure to remove the pump by twisting it off the body and the pump goes into the waste.) As for the contents, anything you flush will eventually make its way to our waterways and oceans. Ideally, you’ll have used your sunscreen, but if not, the landfill is probably your best bet—at least for now. Another option is to squeeze the contents into a paper towel so you can recycle the bottle.

Curology SPF Lip Balm and Sunscreen

The sunscreen by Curology

If you’re going to use sunscreen daily (which we highly recommend), it shouldn’t be a hassle to use. The sunscreen by Curology is a grease-free, 100% mineral-based SPF 30 sunscreen that won’t leave a white-cast on your skin once fully rubbed in (make sure to blend well!) or clog your pores. Its silky texture and fresh finish make it a no-brainer for daily, effortless use. It contains zinc oxide as the active ingredient, which helps prevent ultraviolet radiation from damaging the skin. Plus, it’s designed by dermatologists for acne-prone skin (but it works well on all skin types) and created to work with all our Curology products.   

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Subject to consultation. 30-day trial. Just cover $4.95 in S&H.
curology bottle
curology bottle

If you’re an existing Curology member, getting the sunscreen is easy—just add the item to your next shipment, and we’ll send it right to your door with the rest of your skincare products. For new members, sign up for a 30-day trial and add the sunscreen to your order for free* (+$4.95  for shipping and handling). Existing members can add sunscreen to their plan for $14 (plus taxes where applicable).

FAQs

Does sunscreen expire?

Food and Drug Administration regulations require sunscreen to have an expiration date or show that the product will remain stable for at least three years. So, if yours doesn’t have a specific date, you should discard your sunscreen three years from the date of purchase.

How to spot an expired sunscreen?

The FDA warns that sunscreen may not be safe or fully effective past its expiration date, but what if you don’t know it? Some indicator signs include consistency, when sunscreen can feel grainy or watery, color, expired sunscreen can take on a different shade than when it was new, and finally, smell, if it’s “off,” it’s probably time to toss it.

Ways to help out your sunscreen?

No sunscreen can protect you from UV rays 100%, so it’s important to also remember to take additional steps to help minimize the time you spend in the sun, for instance, you can seek a shady area to avoid sun damage, wear sunglasses with a UV400 rating or labeled “100%U UV protection.", wear a large-brimmed hat, long sleeves, and coverups, keep a long-sleeve shirt with ultraviolet protection factor and avoid the sun during peak hours (10 am-4 pm).

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen: How to help protect your skin from the sun. (2021, November 8).

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Sunscreen FAQs. (n.d.).

  3. Diffey, B.L. When should sunscreen be reapplied?Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2001, December 1).

  4. Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen: How to help protect your skin from the sun. Ibid.

  5. Gabros, S., et al. Sunscreens And Photoprotection. In StatPearls. (2022).

  6. Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen: How to help protect your skin from the sun. Ibid.

  7. Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen: How to help protect your skin from the sun. Ibid.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Related Articles

Best lip balms for chapped lips in the winter monthsThe different types of hyperpigmentation and how to treat themWhat you need to know about different types of skin marksWhat causes pockmarks? Here’s what skincare experts sayWhat are hypertrophic scars and what causes them?

Popular Articles

What to do about post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and acne scars10 quick travel skin tipsSeasonal summer foods for healthier skinThe best vitamin C serums14 rosacea-friendly makeup products for sensitive skin
30-day trial. $4.95 S&H. Subject to consultation.
Get StartedWhy CurologyGuidesOur StoryCommunity
SupportBlogReviewsCareersContact Us
Follow @curology
Vegan and Cruelty Free Stamp, est. 2014
Terms of ServicePrivacy Notice
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
All Rights Reserved © 2022 Curology