Is It Safe To Use Expired Sunscreen?

Woman applying Anthelios sunscreens

We sell a LOT of sunscreen at PharmacyMix, including the ever popular line of Anthelios sunscreens. Because of this we are often asked if it is safe to use expired sunscreen. Though you may not notice (or even care), many skin care products, including sunscreens, cleansers, toners, and active topical treatments, come packaged with expiration dates. Is it safe to use expired sunscreen?

In North America, there isn’t a legal requirement to include expiration dates on cosmetic products. However, sunscreens differ slightly in that the Food and Drug Administration considers them to be over the counter drugs (in a topical form). In Canada, sunscreens must also contain expiration dates. Despite this, you may still encounter sunscreens that lack one.

So what will happen if you decide to go ahead and slather on an expired sunscreen? Before I answer this, it’s important to understand that a sunscreen’s expiration date is based on tests that a sunscreen manufacturer has conducted to demonstrate how long the product retains its efficacy and safety. If a manufacturer runs a test for only 2 years, then they can only label that a sunscreen’s efficacy is for 2 years. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the sunscreen will automatically ‘go bad’ or lose its efficacy the day after its expiration date. It just means that this is the duration that it’s been studied to demonstrate that it is still safe and effective. The sunscreen could very well retain its efficacy for several years more, but there is no way to know that this is the case.

In general terms, if a sunscreen doesn’t smell bad (indicating that it is most likely unsafe to use) it is probably still safe and effective. However, without testing, there is no way to know for certain. Whether you decide to use expired sunscreen depends on your appetite for risk. If you asked for my advice as a pharmacist, I’d have to tell you to throw it out.

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Najwa J. Jadid said,

September 12, 2013 @ 6:07 am

That was very helpful. Thanks a lot. But what I would like to know thst if I use a knockoff for a sunscreen, would that be just as effective or not? And will I be protected or not?

Sharmani said,

September 13, 2013 @ 10:09 am

For Najwa:
We’re glad that you are concerned about whether or not your sunscreen is providing effective protection from the damaging UVA and UVB rays. We’ve written a blog post here about what active ingredients to look for and what they protect against. Please feel free to compare it to your sunscreen’s ingredient list.
Best, Sharmani

Svetla said,

January 20, 2015 @ 9:00 am

Hi, I bought a Sunscreen with expired date..this month…If I do not open it till the summer – is it safe to use it. It is with Ttanium dioxide SPF 50+ of Mustella. It is still sealed.

Sharmani said,

January 20, 2015 @ 12:59 pm

For Svetla:
The general rule of thumb for sunscreens is that they have a shelf life of 12 months once opened. The expiration date is based on tests that a sunscreen manufacturer has conducted to demonstrate how long the product retains its efficacy and safety. However, regardless of the date, if the product’s smell or texture has changed, it is safer to dispose of it.
You may also want to contact either the seller or manufacturer for more information.
Best, Sharmani

Jackie said,

May 20, 2015 @ 9:59 am

My sunscreen expired 10/14. I don’t think it has ever been open. Can I use it?

Sharmani said,

May 21, 2015 @ 10:45 am

For Jackie,
A sunscreen’s expiration date is based on tests performed by the manufacturer to determine how long a product retains its effectiveness and safety. You may notice that the majority of skin care products test for a period of 2 years. However, this does not mean that a product has gone bad or is unsafe to use beyond that point. Without performing a test longer than 2 years, there is no way of knowing for sure, though.
If your sunscreen has never been opened, doesn’t smell bad and still retains its original color and texture, it is probably still safe. The decision is up to you whether to use it or discard it. If you have any doubts or if it has been opened for more than 12 months, however, it’s safer throw it out.
Best, Sharmani

shradha said,

June 17, 2015 @ 2:53 am

hey,
i was using a expired sunscreen for almost 45days. as soon as i realised its expired i threw it away. but the effect on my skin is bad – the boils, dark skin and roughness. Im guessing these r the after-effects if not then help me with an answer.

Sharmani said,

June 21, 2015 @ 11:05 am

For Shradha,
Skin can react to any topical product, whether expired or not. Even treatments that you have been using for many years without problem may suddenly cause irritation and allergic reactions. We would suggest you contact your doctor or dermatologist for a consultation and assistance in dealing with the symptoms you described.
Best, Sharmani

Elle said,

August 22, 2015 @ 7:29 am

Hi

I have had a bottle of sunscreen which I purchased since 2007. I bought it for a vacation in the Caribbean and hadn’t used it since. I recently went back to the Caribbean and decided to take it along with me since it had not hardened or shown any signs of disintegration. It also has the same fragrant smell as when I first bought it so I figured it was safe. I used it on the first day and everything was great. I used it a second time (about 3 – 4 weeks later) and this time I observed some swelling on my face. It was just temporary though. I should note that when I used it the second time, I also had the flu really bad. My eyes were puffy and my nose was also running quite a lot.

Do you think my swollen face (which last about an hour or so) was due to the sunscreen or could it have been because I was ill? I have not used the sunscreen since.

Sharmani said,

August 26, 2015 @ 10:48 am

For Elle,
In light of the fact that your sunscreen expired a number of years ago, we would suggest discontinuing usage. Although it may not have changed in smell, feel or consistency, we would follow the old adage of “when in doubt, throw it out.”
Best, Sharmani

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