We Asked An Expert Whether It’s OK To Use Expired Sunscreen
If you were to tell me you’d never used sunscreen that you suspect has expired, I’d say you’re lying.
It’s an experience we can all relate to. Your mates decide to organise a last-minute trip to the beach, you grab your togs, your towel, and then search frantically for any bottle of sunscreen you can find. What you do unearth looks like an ancient artefact from the Mesozoic Era. You’re left to ponder is it worth chancing it or if it’s time to buy a new one.
Dusting off an old bottle of sunscreen to use might seem innocent enough, but how effective is expired sunscreen against protecting against damage and sunburn? And when exactly does sunscreen expire? These are questions that I am in no way qualified to answer, so we recruited an expert to shed some light on sunscreen expirations.
Dr. Scott McGregor, skin cancer and cosmetic physician and co-founder of We Are Feel Good Inc, answers your questions about using expired sunscreen:
How long does sunscreen last?
“This is a very good question with no simple answer. Sunscreen that has a TGA licence number (i.e. AUSTLXXXX located on the front of the bottle) will have been vigorously tested for effectiveness of its preservatives and its ability to withstand periods of heat. So, most sunscreens tested in this way will last three years if stored in the ideal conditions or 12 months once opened.
“Ideal conditions means consistently below 30 degrees and, once opened, the lid needs to be airtight. Heat and exposure to air will reduce the life of sunscreen. Exposure to air will promote the introduction of bacteria and other unwanted organisms that will damage the product. This is why a very good preservative system is required.”
Can I still use expired sunscreen?
“The answer is [that it’s] probably best not to. The problem is that the product will have started to decline in its effectiveness, but you will not be able to tell by how much. So, is it really protecting you?”
How can I tell if sunscreen has gone bad?
“It can be very difficult to tell in some cases, but usually the product will start to ‘separate’, that is, it starts to lose its consistency and might become a bit granular. This typically happens with sunscreens left in the car or on the boat for too long [and are] exposed to extreme heat. It will also occur if you leave your sunscreen tube open for a period of time allowing air to get in.”
Where is the best place to store sunscreen?
“Sunscreen should be stored in a cool dry place with a temperature consistently below 30 degrees. Clearly, this means not in the car door over summer! Always secure the lid after use to increase the product’s life.”