How long does the sunscreen last? A complete guide

hHave you ever slathered on sunscreen for a day at the beach, on the boat, or in the pool, only to go to the bathroom after taking a dip and look in the mirror to find yourself burned? It’s an unfortunate event, but it’s happened to the best of us, and believe it or not, the shelf life of your sunscreen could be to blame.

How long does sunscreen last you might ask? The answer depends on the intent of your question. After all, sunscreen does have an expiration date, but it also has a set protection period, which is why dermatologists are so insistent on telling their patients, and anyone else who will listen, the importance of reapplying. the SPF.

All of this to say that if you’ve been applying sunscreen religiously but are still experiencing the tingling, tightness, and redness of overexposure to harmful UV rays, it’s about time you learned the reality of some of your biggest issues. fire questions related to SPF. How long does sunscreen last once applied? How long is sunscreen good for? And can you use expired sunscreen? Find out the answers to all these questions and more below.

How long does sunscreen last on the skin?

The longevity of your SPF will depend on the specific product you are using. That said, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), you should reapply sunscreen every two hours while spending time in direct sunlight for optimal protection. And that goes for all SPF levels, too. While AAD experts (and dermatologists in general) recommend using SPF 30 or higher for solid sun protection, whether you’re using SPF 30, SPF 15, or SPF 50, reapplying is key to keeping your skin safe. This is because sun exposure breaks down the ingredients in the formula, so once it hits the two-hour mark, it will no longer continue to provide optimal protection.

Although sunscreen’s UV protection only lasts a few hours on the skin’s surface, the product sinks into pores and can irritate the skin if left on overnight. So if you’ve been thinking about whether or not it’s okay to sleep in sunscreen, do yourself a favor and treat it like makeup—wash it off already!

Does sunscreen expire?

Like all skin care products, sunscreen does have an expiration date. According to board-certified dermatologist Christina Lee Chung, MD, FAAD, at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sunscreen typically wears off within three years.

“So if you buy a sunscreen and notice that it doesn’t have an expiration date, the best practice is to mark the date of purchase (or when you first remove the seal) and throw it away before it reaches the three-year mark, which which hopefully you won’t reach before you use it all up,” she says.

If you’re someone who likes to stretch the rules a bit and use products beyond their stated expiration dates, Chung suggests always keeping the rule of three in mind. “If you buy a sunscreen and the expiration date is at the two-year mark, chances are you’ll be good for another year after that,” she says.

What sunscreens break down the fastest?

While sunscreens have a general shelf life of three years, they break down differently depending on the formula. “Chemical sunscreens break down faster due to their relatively unstable active ingredients, such as octinoxate and avobenzone,” says board-certified dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD, FAAD.

Research also shows that oxybenzone (another popular sunscreen chemical) oxidizes particularly quickly, making it less effective over time. So not only is it incredibly important to reapply every two hours like clockwork, it’s also important not to accidentally leave it in your car on a hot summer day, Chung says, as exposure to heat and sun will degrade its ingredients. .

Physical sunscreens (aka ocean-friendly sunscreens), like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, on the other hand, don’t break down. “Rather, the formulation that stabilizes the product and allows it to disperse evenly degrades, indirectly affecting its sunscreen properties,” says Dr. Chung.

Can sunscreen go bad before the expiration date?

Sunscreen may lose its effectiveness before the expiration date. Like food and other sensitive skin care products, sunscreen works best “when stored properly, in cool, room-temperature environments, away from heat exposure,” says Dr. Henry.

Can you use expired sunscreen?

Can? Yes, you should? It is not recommended. “There comes a time when the product changes, and if used, it can have unwanted negative effects,” says Dr. Chung. There are a few reasons for this. For starters, expired ingredients can trigger allergic and irritant reactions. This can manifest in the form of general inflammation, rashes, or full-blown breakouts due to degraded ingredients, says Dr. Henry.

Another reason you might have an adverse reaction to expired sunscreen? It could be moldy, which means your face would be covered in bacteria if you applied it. “Sunscreens contain preservatives to keep them sterile,” says Dr. Chung. “These preservatives will diminish over time, increasing the risk of bacterial overgrowth, which can lead to acne breakouts if applied to the skin.”

When sunscreen goes bad, it’s not just the ingredients that are affected—the texture and consistency of the product can be, too. According to Chung, mineral sunscreens, in particular, get grittier with age. Because of this, they can be more difficult to apply, which can result in uneven coverage. “And nobody wants to come back from having fun in the sun looking like a Jackson Pollock painting,” she says.

The biggest risk of all, however, is that once expired, your sunscreen may lose its purpose. “The challenge with expired sunscreen, although it probably still has some sun protection ability, no one can know how much,” says Dr. Chung. “So you could be getting a good hour or two of protection, or you could be applying a product with an SPF equivalent to a regular moisturizer: zero. And without a general sense, the risk of excess sun exposure increases significantly.

How to tell if sunscreen has expired

Not sure if your SPF is expired? A good way to tell is by examining its color, texture, and smell. “Expired sunscreens can become grainy or clumpy in texture and show a distinctive change in odor or aroma if contaminated with bacteria,” Henry says.

Another way to determine if your SPF has lost its shine? Consider the condition of your skin after using it. “With out-of-date sunscreens, our skin becomes instantly vulnerable to damage from UV rays,” says Henry. “With reduced SPF efficacy, we can experience sudden sunburn from a lack of essential UV protection.”

Food to go

To avoid any unnecessary skin irritation, Henry says it’s best to keep an eye on the expiration date on your sunscreen and toss even your best-loved SPF if that date arrives.

If the thought of throwing away your favorite sunscreen is terrifying, can we introduce you to the AAD’s recommended sunscreen dosing guideline? For optimal UV protection, dermatologists suggest using one ounce (aka a shot glass’s worth) of sunscreen to adequately cover bare skin from head to toe (more specifically, dermatologists recommend two fingertips of SPF for face). If done every day (or even just during the summer), it should easily be empty before the three year mark is up.

However, if you do have to throw away your SPF, don’t take it as a sign that it’s a worthless investment. Instead, treat yourself to a formula you’ll be happy to apply over and over again. For me, nothing compares to the Tatcha Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen ($70): it goes on so smoothly, never irritates my sensitive skin, and wears well under makeup. For my body, I keep my beach/lake/pool bag (I’m not a keeper! The A New Day Seasonal Tote Bag, $30, is my current obsession, so much so that I bought it in two colors) stocked with Supergoop! PLAY Everyday Lotion SPF 50 with Sunflower Extract ($34), PLAY Antioxidant Body Mist SPF 50 with Vitamin C ($21), and Unseen Sunscreen Body SPF 40 ($42), which is one of good + goodThe top rated sunscreens are my current favorites.

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