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

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