Is Expired Sunscreen Better Than Nothing?

You’re out on a lovely, sunny day, you reach into your bag for your sunscreen and you notice it’s expired. Should you use it? Is it better than nothing? Well, that depends.

If the sunscreen’s active ingredient is zinc or titanium dioxide, it may hold up better than others. However, how the sunscreen has been stored is an important factor, as well. Heat can significantly degrade the effectiveness of sunscreen. It’s ironic that by keeping sunscreen in a bag on the beach for days on end, you’re actually decreasing the life of your sunscreen. I mean, that’s where you need it to be to make sure you’re applying frequently and protecting yourself right? In that case, what are the general rules for sunscreen?

First, most sunscreen should have an expiration date on it. However, sunscreens that have demonstrated that they will remain at original strength for up to three years do not have to place an expiration date on the bottle. This can be a problem for those of us who can never quite recall when we bought it. So, as a general rule, I recommend writing the purchase date on any sunscreen bottle that doesn’t have an expiration date on it.

For those of us who didn’t have the forethought to write the purchase date on the bottle, there are other ways to determine if the sunscreen is no longer effective. Smell it. If the chemicals have broken down, it will smell different than its usual scent. It may even smell rancid. If so, it isn’t good anymore.

You should also check its consistency. If the texture is off, if it’s too runny or gritty, it’s likely no good and it should be tossed.

The biggest problem with using expired sunscreen is the false sense of security it may give you. Sunscreen has an important job to do protecting you from dangerous UV rays. The smart course of action is to start every spring by assessing your sunscreen stock. Pull out all the bottles you have and check the dates, smell and feel their consistency. If in doubt, head out and buy new ones.


  • The latest from Angela
I have been a beauty junkie for what seems like forever, but before I did anything about it, I went to law school. (Yes, my life is a little like the reverse of Legally Blonde.) Then, I worked as a prosecutor in Sonoma County after which I moved to the DC area with my husband in ’97. I served as Majority Counsel to the Senate Banking Committee followed by a year-long stint at a lobbying firm. You get the picture. It was then that I decided to act on my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Finding my favorite beauty products proved to be impossible without stepping foot in a mall–the horror. So, I decided to bring my favorites to Alexandria. A few trips to New York and a flight to France and Bellacara was born in March 2000.

Located in historic Old Town Alexandria, for more than 17 years Bellacara has been Northern Virginia's preeminent boutique for high end cosmetic, skincare and haircare products. At Bellacara you will find premiere beauty products that have been carefully edited by the store’s owner, Angela Sitilides, who personally tests all the products sold in store. The boutique carries only the best product lines – Kiehl’s, Jouer, Dr. Dennis Gross, Christophe Robin, Moroccan Oil, Bumble & Bumble, Fresh, Molton Brown, Skinceuticals, Smashbox, Stila, Mario Badescu, Clarins, Dermalogica, Kevyn Aucoin, Kai, Child, St. Tropez, Smith and Cult, and many more.

1000 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314


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