Your question, answered: Does sunscreen expire?

Here’s everything you need to know about expired sunscreen.

Written by
Tori Crowther
Medically reviewed by
5
min read
2
Citations
Share
Table of contents

There are a few extra important things to know about sunscreen. The first is remembering to apply it (and reapply it), the second is using enough of it, and the third — and most overlooked element — is whether it’s still in date.

Yep, just like the expiration date attached to your skincare and makeup products, your sunscreen expires, too.

As the weather gets warmer and we start spending more time outdoors, it’s important to know whether your favourite SPF has gone bad before slathering yourself in the stuff to make sure we're all protected from skin cancer.

With sunscreen formulas more elegant than ever, there really is no excuse not to wear your sunscreen every single day. And if you’re wearing it every day, you won’t need to worry about expiration dates because you’ll have used it up long before then — so it really is a win-win. 

Here’s everything you need to know about expired sunscreen.

What does sunscreen do?

Along with other methods of practising sun safety — including staying out of direct sunlight during peak hours for extended periods of time and wearing UV protection clothing — sunscreen is an effective way of reducing harmful UV rays (come rain or shine!), which can lead to skin cancer. 

In addition to reducing sun damage, sunscreen is also one of the best preventative measures we can take when it comes to premature ageing, as well as minimise future hyperpigmentation, and rosacea flare-ups, and even reduce acne.

How long does sunscreen typically last?

There are 2 answers here: one for unopened sunscreen and one for opened sunscreen. 

In Australia, unopened sunscreens last around 2-3 years, according to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), so if you’ve stocked up and worried you won’t get through it all in time — fear not, you’ve got time. 

You’ll find this date on the product either in black writing or embossed into the packaging with the date and year of expiration. 

Opened products are, of course, slightly different. Take a look at the packaging and you’ll see a “use by” symbol (usually at the bottom of the back of the tube), which looks like a pot with an opened lid. This has a number on it, typically it’s 6M, 12M, or 18M signifying how many months it remains safe after opening. 

Now, with a lot of beauty products, especially dried cosmetics, most of us use the product beyond its recommended “use by” date after opening to get our money’s worth. With sunscreen, that’s not worth it.

Quite simply because then it’s not an effective sunscreen, which is the sole purpose of using the product. Open sunscreen usually is given 6-12 months after opening. 

A trick we like to do is to use a tiny sharpie and write down the date we opened the product. That way, you're never second-guessing when it was opened because chances are, it’s been open much longer than you remember. 

How can I tell if my sunscreen has expired?

First, and most obvious answer is to check the packaging for the symbol and try to remember when you opened it.

If you don’t remember, or if you think the sunscreen wasn’t stored properly (e.g. exposed to prolonged heat and sun) then these are the things to look out for: 

Consistency

The first thing you’ll likely notice is that the ingredients will start to separate. It may have a watery consistency, or feel gritty or lumpy. If this is the case, you’ll need to start a new bottle. 

Smell

You may also notice a foul or unpleasant smell. Or, it might just smell differently from how you remember it. 

Colour

Your sunscreen may have gone more yellow in colour if it has expired. If you notice any of these things, we hate to tell you that you need to throw away that bottle of SPF and start a new one. 

Even if you’ve only had your sunscreen open a few months but it’s had the sun blazing down on it, it might go off quicker. 

Places like leaving it in the car or at the beach may overheat the formula and make it go back quicker. It helps by just popping the bottle in a bag or wrapping a towel around it so that it’s protected from direct sunlight. That way, it'll remain stable and keep you better protected from skin damage.

What happens when my sunscreen expires?

Firstly, it’s all down to the SPF rating. You can no longer rely on it! The bottle might say SPF 50 but if it’s gone off, you might only be getting 15 or less, for example. 

In physical or mineral sunscreens — those containing ingredients titanium dioxide or zinc oxide — the ingredients degrade. 

Chemical sunscreens — containing ingredients like oxybenzone and octocrylene— are known to oxidise, especially when exposed to prolonged direct sunlight [1]. 

Secondly, active UV-blocking ingredients aside, the rest of the formula can expire, too. So, if the formula housing the UV blockers aren’t working correctly, you’re likely not going to get the protection you need to remain safe in the sun. This can also cause irritation and generally be unpleasant to use.

How long does sunscreen last after the expiration date?

Of course, sunscreen doesn’t instantly expire a day after its 6 or 12 months is up. But if you’re using a formula that’s on the older side, use it up quickly and as soon as possible, not surpassing it by 

Basically, don’t keep expired sunscreen in a drawer to be used “at some point”, finish it up as soon as you think it may be reaching the end of its expiration and get onto a new bottle. 

Where can I find the expiration date on my sunscreen?

Sunscreen “use by” dates are on the back of the packaging. But you’ll also find an expiration date on either the very top of the tube or the bottom of the base. These can sometimes be hard to see. They’re often in black writing or are stamped into the tube material and read “EXP” with the month and year of expiration. 

Why shouldn't you use expired sunscreen?

The simple reason for not using expired sunscreen is that you won’t be protected from the sun, making it totally redundant.

Not to mention, it will be a really unpleasant experience to use anyway.

How much sunscreen do you need to use to be sun safe?

The amount of sunscreen used is one of the most common mistakes made when it comes to SPF. When it comes to sunscreen, more is generally more because we humans are prone to not using enough, especially when we're in a rush. Use your sunscreen generously.

Face and neck

½ a teaspoon for the face and neck or enough for 2 full finger-lengths. Don't forget your ears here too! 

If anyone tells you “a little goes a long way” when it comes to sunscreen, run a mile! The key here is to always use the right amount and truly slather it on. 

Chest and torso

1 teaspoon for the chest and stomach.

Legs

1 teaspoon for each leg.

Arms

1 teaspoon for each arm. 

Back

1 teaspoon for the back. 

Full body

A full body application of sunscreen should be around 7 teaspoons, which is the equivalent of a shot glass. 

Of course, everyone is different so if you find you need a little more than the guidelines recommend, then apply more. It’s always better to be over-protected. Yes, this means that a bottle of sunscreen is used up pretty quickly, but that's the whole point!

And don’t forget to reapply, especially to the face! Luckily, there are lots of clever formulas out there that make reapplication super easy and won’t mess up makeup if you’re wearing any. 

All sunscreens in Australia are rigorously tested when it comes to being water-resistant, but it’s always recommended to reapply SPF after swimming [2]. 

Where's the best place to store my SPF?

Find a cool, dark place to store sunscreen. Typically in a cupboard or a drawer that isn't exposed to direct sunlight and won’t overheat so that the shelf life remains stable for up to 3 years. Or, the active ingredients in the formula will degrade faster.

Try to keep your sunscreen out of the car and if you’re on the beach, pop it in a bag (yes, we grant this as a great excuse to buy a new beach bag) or somewhere cooler and out of direct sunlight to avoid the formula degrading due to excessive heat.

So, the bottom line: does sunscreen expire? Yes, it absolutely does expire. Both chemical sunscreen and mineral sunscreen can expire when opened past their expiration date, or if exposed to direct sun for too long. If stored correctly, sunscreens can for at least 3 years unopened.

For best protection, use a new sunscreen bottle fairly quickly after opening it to protect against sunburn and damage. Make note of the expiry date and store it according to the directions.

Software’s Daily Sun Defence SPF50+ is a non-comedogenic and lightweight sunscreen designed for everyday wear — from the beach to the office. With a broad spectrum to protect against UVA and UVB rays, which may reduce the risk of photoageing, sun spots and some skin cancers.

No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.