We sell a LOT of sunscreen at PhaMix, 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.