Here’s what happens if you use sunscreen that’s a year old (or older)

Do expiration dates on suncream really matter and what happens if you use an SPF you bought last year? Below, a dermatologist reveals what you really need to know. 

We all know that we should be wearing SPF every day as part of our skincare routines, but when it comes to summer, our suncream game has to ramp up even further. Because not only do we have to consistently apply SPF to our faces, our bodies need daily protection too. 

But with dull and dreary Britain being the way it is, how often do you actually finish a tube of suncream? And if you find last year’s SPF buried in your bathroom cabinet then of course you’d be tempted to use it rather than fork out on a brand new one.

But it turns out that, like most beauty products, SPF has an expiration date and the bad news is that it’s usually not very long. So last year’s suncream could potentially be putting your skin at risk, rather than it doing some good. 

So how do you know if your SPF from last year has turned bad and what happens if you throw caution to the wind and decide to finish it off anyway? Below, we asked dermatologist Dr Beibei Du-Harpur to shed some light on the subject – here’s everything you need to know…

How long does suncream last?

“Sunscreens have differing expiration timescales after opening, depending on the product or brand,” explains Dr Du-Harpur. While most sunscreens last around the 12-month mark, some have been tested for stability for a little longer – around 18 months or two years. “It’s important to check the packaging for a logo that looks like a pot with a timeframe on it and I wouldn’t recommend using it after this time.” 12M means it’s good for a year, 24M means it’s good for two years, and so on.

It’s also important to note that where you store your suncream has a massive affect on its stability. “Incorrect storage in extremes of temperature, particularly heat, can also destabilise a product faster than anticipated.” So if you’ve had that bottle of suncream lying in direct sunlight on the beach (and haven’t we all), chances are it won’t last as long. 

How can you tell if your SPF has gone bad?

As a general rule of thumb, you can often tell if a beauty product has passed its expiration date if it has a funky smell or has dramatically changed in colour or texture. But are there things we should be looking out for specifically with SPF? 

“If you see unusual separation – for example if the formula is separating into water and oily components – it may indicate it is no longer stable and I wouldn’t recommend using it,” explains Dr Du-Harpur.

What happens if you use out-of-date suncream?

Even if you know that your SPF is probably past its best, it can be tempting to use it anyway. After all, what’s the harm? “There is data to suggest that sunscreen filters can degrade after their expiration time so it may be less protective,” explains Dr Du-Harpur. If your sunscreen has passed its expiration, you’re likely not getting the UV protection that’s labelled – putting you at risk of sunburn and skin ageing. 

“Expiry dates on beauty products are also usually related to the preservative systems that keep the product free of bacteria,” says Dr Du-Harpur. “It’s therefore important also from a safety perspective to use skincare products (not just sunscreens!) within the recommended timeframe otherwise you could be at risk of having a skin reaction.”

Main image: Getty

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