How to know whether last year’s sunscreen is still safe to use

Packing your bags for a trip to the beach this Memorial Day Weekend? Don’t forget your sunscreen.

But as you gather all of your vacation necessities, you may find yourself wondering, “Can I still use that bottle on my bathroom shelf from last summer?”

It depends.

Sunscreen is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA mandates all sunscreens have either an expiration date marked on the packaging or a shelf life of at least three years.

So take a look at the bottle. If you see an expiration date listed, and it hasn’t passed yet, your sunscreen is likely OK. If you don’t see a date listed, but bought it within the three-year window, it’s also probably safe for use.

What if you can’t remember when you bought it?

“Don’t take a chance,” Consumer Reports recommends. “Buy a new one and use a permanent marker to write the date you purchased it on the container.”

There are a few other factors to consider before putting that bottle in your suitcase:

  • Exposure to direct sunlight or heat: Was your sunscreen sunbathing with you last year, or stored by a window in your bathroom? Throw it away. Direct sunlight can “cause changes in color and texture and may cause the products to smell,” no matter its expiration date, according to the FDA. (Pro tip: Store your new sunscreen in your cooler this summer.)
  • Ingredient separation: Check the sunscreen. If the contents have separated or it is watery, the sunscreen is likely spoiled, according to Consumer Reports.
  • Cleanliness: The FDA says cosmetic products can break down or spoil if exposed to bacteria. If you dipped your fingers into the product last year, it might be worth getting a new bottle.
  • SPF: Make sure your sunscreen has a sufficient SPF for your skin type. The FDA recommends everyone use an SPF of at least 15, but suggests people with fair skin use an SPF of 30 or 50.

It’s important to remember to apply sunscreen to any area of your body that may be exposed to the sun (including less obvious places, such as your scalp and ears) and apply it often.

Now get out there and enjoy the summer!

Julie Gallagher

Julie Gallagher is a freelance digital writer and editor for She previously covered the 2020 election with CNN and has bylines in The Lily, WIRED, NBC Washington, The Baltimore Sun, Washington City Paper and more.

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