Does Sunscreen Expire?

Save your skin from a bad burn

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Melting sunscreen Ben Bours

Although sunscreen is meant to be used year-round, most people don’t think much about it until they’re ready to trade jackets and long sleeves for T-shirts and bathing suits. But is the half-used or unopened lotion or spray you’ve had hanging around since last September still okay for you to use now? Or does sunscreen expire?

Sunscreen does have a shelf life, but it’s a long one. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates sunscreens, mandates that sunscreens be formulated to stay stable and effective for three years. And they will remain so, even if the container has been opened. “Opening a sunscreen doesn’t cause it to expire any faster. Provided it’s been stored at room temperature, it will maintain its level of protection if it is still in that three-year window,” says Susan Booth, the project leader for sunscreen testing at Consumer Reports. “We have retested sunscreen samples from previous years’ testing after storing them in our lab and found no differences in performance.”

More On Sun Protection

Some sunscreens have an expiration date on the container, which makes it easy to determine the product’s “freshness.” (You may have to do a little searching—the dates aren’t always easy to spot.) “A sunscreen that expires in six months should work as well as one that has an expiration date of three years away,” Booth says.

But the FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to date their products. If you have a date-less sunscreen and can’t recall when you bought it, don’t take a chance. Buy a new one and use a permanent marker to write the date you purchased it on the container.

And regardless of the sunscreen’s expiration or purchase date, toss it if the contents have separated—“spoiled” sunscreen will be watery—or if it has changed color or has a funny smell.

Find the Best Sunscreen for You

Consumer Reports’ sunscreen ratings can help you find a sunscreen that will protect your skin and have the right scent and feel for you. These are some of the top performers from our tests, listed in alphabetical order.

Sunscreen Protection

Do sunscreens really protect as much as they claim? On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports expert Sue Booth breaks down what you need to know to keep you safe from the sun’s harmful rays.

Trisha Calvo

I've covered health and nutrition my entire career, so I know how to separate science from hype. Whether it's about food labels, sunscreen, or food safety, my goal is to deliver information that makes following a healthy lifestyle easier. Healthy cooking is a favorite hobby, and friends think I'm crazy, but I can happily spend hours grocery shopping. Follow me on Twitter. (@TrishaCalvo)