Whether you think your sunscreen has expired, or you want to know for future reference, you may be wondering whether expired sunscreen still works (or if it even expires). Well, here’s all you need to know about this essential product and its expiration.
Does sunscreen expire?
Before we look at whether expired sunscreen works, we need to know whether it actually expires in the first place and knowing why can give some valuable information to answering our questions, too. If you didn’t already know, most cosmetic products expire at some point, which varies between individual products, and they all work like this for the same reasons.
Firstly, yes, sunscreen is yet another product that will expire eventually, and it’s all to do with how the ingredients inside it work together, and how long they can last. Because sunscreen expires, you don’t want to buy too many and leave them sitting on your shelf without using them, as they won’t live up to their name forever, as you’ll see later.
In sunscreens, as with almost all cosmetic products, you can find a specific type of ingredients known as a preservative, which you’ve probably heard of before. These preservatives do exactly what they sound like: they preserve the product, which makes it last for longer. Ordinarily, most of the ingredients in the sunscreen would spoil or become ineffective pretty quickly, but the preservatives are there to prevent this happening so soon.
However, eventually, the preservative will spoil too, which is when the whole sunscreen will expire. Because the preservative is no longer ‘holding’ the formula together, each of the ingredients will expire in their own time, and this can take place in many different ways.
How do I know if my sunscreen is expired?
Now that we know sunscreens do, in fact, expire, you may start panicking, and wondering whether this has happened to yours, or others you’ve had in the past. Don’t panic, as there are a few different ways you can work out whether your product has expired, and here they are:
- The expiry date: although it’s obvious, you may not have realised before that there is actually an expiry date on your cosmetic products, and it’s really easy to find. On the product packaging, you just need to look for a small illustration of a cosmetic container or tube with a number written inside it. This number is the number of months you can keep using the product since the date it has been opened – you’re welcome.
- Ingredient separation: if you find a product you haven’t used in a while, such as a cream or lotion, you may have opened it before to find that the ingredients have all separated, and it looks a bit horrible. This is a sign that at least some of the ingredients have spoiled, as this throws off the balance of the others to leave separations and other texture issues.
- Bad smell: hopefully, if you were to find that your sunscreen had a funky smell, you’d be put off of using it anyway. However, if this isn’t enough to deter you, it’s best that you’d know this is definitely a sign of a passed expiry date, and you’re best not using it.
- Anything unusual: if you’re using your sunscreen every day, you should know what it’s supposed to smell, feel and look like, so any changes in these basic elements can be a sign of expiration, especially if you’ve had your product for a while.
Does expired sunscreen still work?
You’ve now identified that your sunscreen has expired but, I mean, it’s not that bad, you could probably still use it up, couldn’t you? Here is the most important question of the all, and it’s some really important information for you to know.
As mentioned earlier, preservatives are holding the entire formula together, in essence, as they keep everything the way it should be, fully functioning and fresh. When these preservatives have gone past their expiration, all the other ingredients are left to somewhat fend for themselves, in simpler terms. Basically, it’s now down to the individual ingredients to expire, and the time this takes is different for all the different ingredients.
Of course, this opens up some room for uncertainty, and it’s very difficult to judge what stage each component of the sunscreen is at, and how effective it will be once the product has expired. However, it’s advised that you don’t use a sunscreen past its expiry, as it’s likely that at least one of the UV filters present will have turned ineffective, and this means that you are exposing your skin to UV rays whilst your skin does not have adequate protection, and that can cause severe damage over time.
- EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 face sunscreen for oily skin contains 9.0% Zinc Oxide, Niacinamide and an antioxidant to promote healthy skin while blocking harmful UVA and UVB rays from the sun
- Apply this face sunscreen for sensitive skin daily to help soothe sensitive skin types prone to acne, rosacea and hyperpigmentation
If you click Buy on Amazon and make a purchase, I'll earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
It’s good to know that, while your products may have gone past the expiry date on the packaging, there shouldn’t be a huge problem with using them, as long as the formula is still exactly as you remember it to be, and nothing has visibly changed. If you do notice that your skin isn’t as protected, and so it’s burning, or it is causing irritation or some kind on your skin, discontinue use, and buy a new replacement.
Is it safe to use an expired sunscreen?
We’re always worried about safety when it concerns something like an expiry date, as we want to know how much use we can get out of something whilst still protecting ourselves. In truth, there’s nothing particularly dangerous, as such, about using an expired sunscreen, and the bigger concern is what it doesn’t do, rather than what it can.
As we talked about in the previous section, there is the risk that the UV filters in expired sunscreens may now be inefficient, and therefore not protect you in the Sun, allowing sunburn and other problems caused by the penetration of UVA and UVB rays through our skin. This is, of course, unsafe as it exposes you to potential dangers and complications which should definitely be avoided.
Not to mention, some other ingredients present in the cream can turn ineffective, too, and these can be very important ones for your skin, aside from the UV filters. Therefore, some irritation may come from an expired sunscreen, which is best to avoid by simply replacing your product.
In the end, the most important thing you should take away from this is that it’s not advised to use an expired sunscreen, no because it’s dangerous, but because of what it can lack. You want to protect your skin from UV rays at all costs, so keep an eye on your sunscreen to ensure that there will be no problems.