Does Sunscreen Expire?

Written by: Dr. Leslie Baumann



Time to read 7 min

As a dermatologist in Miami, one of the most common questions I receive from patients is, "Does sunblock expire?" You see, many of us here in Miami have sunscreen in our car, pool bag, beach bag and purse that we may find months later and wonder if the sunscreen is still good. If it is expired, can we still use it? What are the risks of using expired SPF

These are valid concerns, as using expired sunscreen can lead to reduced effectiveness and potential skin issues. In this blog post, we'll dive into the topic of sunscreen expiration, including when sunscreen expires, how long sunscreen lasts, what happens when you use expired sunscreen.

Does Sunscreen Expire? Understanding Sunscreen Shelf Life and Stability

Sunscreen Expiration

Sunscreen expire. They expire faster when opened or when exposed to heat and sun. SPF expirations dates apply to unopened sunscreen stored away from sun and heat.

SPF Expiration Dates

All sunscreens have an expiration date code on them. The expiration date sunscreen code helps consumers determine the shelf life of their sunscreen products. The FDA regulates sunscreen labeling to ensure the expiration date is clearly displayed and easy to find, typically on the bottom of the container or directly on the packaging. Expiration dates may be presented in a coded format, with letters and numbers indicating the manufacture date and lot number.

The FDA requires all sunscreen products to display an expiration date unless stability testing shows the product remains stable for at least three years. The expiration date must be displayed clearly, using a format like "EXP" or "Expiration Date" followed by the month and year.'

If a sunscreen product does not have an expiration date printed on the packaging, it typically means that the manufacturer has conducted stability testing showing that the product remains stable and effective for at least three years from the date of manufacture when unopened.

If a product doesn't have an expiration date, it must include a "period after opening" (PAO) symbol indicating how long the product remains stable after opening.

 It's important to note that this three-year stability applies only to unopened products

Sunscreen Shelf Life

Unopened sunscreens need to be discarded within 3 years or by the expiration date on the product- whichever comes first.  The sunscreen shelf life frame depends upon the ingredients in the formulation.

How Long Does Sunscreen Last?

Sunscreen does have an expiration date, and it's essential to pay attention to it. Most sunscreens are designed to remain stable and effective for up to three years from the date of manufacture. However, this can vary depending on the specific product and storage conditions. If you keep your sunscreen in a cool, dry place like the refrigerator, it may last up to two years once opened. But if you store it in your car or pool bag, where it's exposed to heat, it may lose its effectiveness sooner.

How Long Does SPF Last Once Opened?

Once a sunscreen is opened, it should be used within 12 months, to ensure optimal effectiveness and safety. However, this time is shorter if the opened sunscreen was exposed to sunlight or heat. This is why you should not keep SPF in your car or boat unless you replace it often.  I tell my patients to use sunscreen within a month of opening it if possible.

What Happens If You Use Expired Sunscreen?

Don't use expired sunscreen. There are many side effects that can occur- and you will not get the same level of sun protection.

Using expired sunscreen can have several consequences:

  1. Reduced Effectiveness: As sunscreen ages, the active ingredients can break down and lose their ability to protect your skin from UV rays. This means you may be more prone to sunburn, even if you apply the sunscreen as directed.
  2. Increased Free Radicals: When chemical sunscreens deteriorate, they can release free radicals, which may damage your skin cells and lead to premature aging.
  3. Allergic response- some types of chemical sunscreens can decompose into allergens, making it more likely for you to have an allergic reaction or sun sensitivity caused by photoallergens.
  4. Difficulty Spreading: Physical sunscreens, like those containing zinc oxide, can become thick and difficult to spread evenly on your skin when they expire.

Sunblocks That Become Photoallergens

Certain sunscreen ingredients can become photoallergens when exposed to heat and sunlight for extended periods. These include:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • PABA
  • Avobenzone

Replace Expired Sunscreen

Is your sunscreen expired and you need a new one? We can help! Shop our collection of bestselling sunscreens and dermatologist favorites.

Sunscreen Stability Testing and Storage

The FDA regulates sunscreen as an over-the-counter (OTC) medication, requiring manufacturers to conduct stability testing to determine the product's shelf life. This testing involves exposing the sunscreen to various temperatures and conditions to see how long it remains effective. Most sunscreens are tested at temperatures between 40°F and 100°F.

To ensure your sunscreen lasts as long as possible, store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Avoid leaving it in your car or pool bag, where it can be exposed to high temperatures. You can also keep sunscreen in the refrigerator to make it last longer.

Stability testing of susncreen AI generated image

Sunscreen should be an every day part of your daily skin care routine. We can help you design the perfect custom skin care routine.  All you need to do is find out which of the 16 Baumann Skin Types you are, and then we help you build a dermatologist recommended skincare routine that includes a daily sunscreen.

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Are Sunscreen Expiration Dates a Hoax to Sell More Product?

Some skeptics argue that sunscreen expiration dates are merely a marketing ploy designed to encourage consumers to buy more products. However, this claim is not supported by scientific evidence or FDA regulations. Sunscreen expiration dates are based on stability testing conducted by manufacturers to ensure the product remains safe and effective over time. The FDA requires sunscreen manufacturers to provide evidence that their products remain stable and maintain their labeled SPF level for at least three years. If a sunscreen does not have an expiration date, it must be labeled with a statement indicating that it is stable for at least three years. The active ingredients in sunscreen, such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate, can degrade over time, particularly when exposed to heat, humidity, and light. This degradation can lead to reduced effectiveness and potential skin irritation. Therefore, sunscreen expiration dates are not a hoax but rather a crucial piece of information that helps consumers make informed decisions about the safety and efficacy of their sun protection products.

Do You Burn If You Use Expired Sunscreen?

Yes, you are more likely to burn if you use expired sunscreen. The active ingredients in sunscreen can break down over time, reducing their ability to shield your skin from harmful UV rays. This means that even if you apply expired sunscreen, you may not be getting the level of protection indicated on the label, increasing your risk of sunburn.

Does Zinc Oxide Expire?

Zinc oxide, a common ingredient in physical sunscreens, is generally more stable than chemical sunscreen ingredients. However, it can still expire and become less effective over time. When zinc oxide expires, it may become thicker and more difficult to apply evenly on the skin, leading to patchy protection.

Does Chemical Sunscreen Expire?

Chemical sunscreens, which use ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate, are more prone to expiration than physical sunscreens. These ingredients can break down more quickly when exposed to heat and UV light, leading to reduced effectiveness and potential skin irritation.

How long does sunscreen last?

Most sunscreens last 3 years if unopened.  If it is less than 3 years, the expiration date is required to be on the label.

Can I get a rash from expired sunblock?

Old and expired sunscreens can break down into allergens that can give you a rash. In some cases the rash will only occur in sun exposed areas.  This is called a photoallergy.

If the only sunscreen I have is expired, should I use it?

If your only option for SPF is an expired sunscreen, then use it.  It is better to have an expired sunscreen than no sunscreen at all.

Best References and Scientific Publications on Sunscreen Expiration and Stability:

  1. Baumann L. Sunscreens in Ch. 46 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Lapides, R., Saravi, B., Mueller, A., Wang-Evers, M., Maul, L. V., Németh, I., ... & Roider, E. (2023). Possible Explanations for Rising Melanoma Rates Despite Increased Sunscreen Use over the Past Several Decades. Cancers15(24), 5868.
  3. Smaoui, S., Hlima, H. B., Chobba, I. B., & Kadri, A. (2017). Development and stability studies of sunscreen cream formulations containing three photo-protective filters. Arabian Journal of Chemistry10, S1216-S1222.
  4. Cole, C. A., Vollhardt, J., & Mendrok, C. (2009). Formulation and stability of sunscreen products. Clinical guide to sunscreens and photoprotection, 39-51.
  5. Gaspar, L. R., & Campos, P. M. (2006). Evaluation of the photostability of different UV filter combinations in a sunscreen. International Journal of pharmaceutics307(2), 123-128.