Don’t get burned: 3 reasons for throwing out your sunscreen

By James C. Wurzer, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of radiation oncology, AtlantiCare Cancer Care Institute, a Fox Chase Cancer Center Partner.

When sunny skies beckon, who can resist the urge to go outside to do something fun?

Although it feels great to soak up all that sun on the beach, in the backyard, or on the tennis court, excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays can harm your skin, cause premature skin aging, and put you at higher risk of developing skin cancer.

James C. Wurzer, MD, PhD

We often see patients who’ve been sunburned multiple times during the summer.

I always tell my patients that one of the best ways to protect their skin from the sun’s damaging rays is to generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin.

You might be inclined to grab last year’s sunscreen on your way to the beach.

Sunscreen does expire, and when it does, the chemicals that block the sun deteriorate and breakdown over time. If your sunscreen is expired, it won’t matter how much you apply, it won’t protect your skin from a sunburn or cellular damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Here are a few ways to determine you need to throw out that old sunscreen:

The sunscreen is expired, or there is no expiration date on the packaging. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all sunscreens be effective for at least three years. If the expiration date on the bottle of your sunscreen has passed, throw it out.

If you buy a new bottle or tube of sunscreen and it doesn’t have an expiration date on the packaging, write the date you purchased it on the bottle. If your bottle from last summer doesn’t have an expiration date on it, toss it and buy a new one.

The sunscreen has been stored in a hot place. If you left your sunscreen in the trunk, glove compartment, or another hot place, throw it away. Sunscreen’s active ingredients can break down in the heat.

The sunscreen has obvious changes in color, consistency and smell, even if it hasn’t expired. If your sunscreen has become too thin or too thick to spread, it has probably gone bad. A change in color or funny smell could mean your sunscreen has gone sour and that it’s time to purchase a new bottle.

You should apply sunscreen frequently and generously. One application should equal one ounce. That’s how much you generally need to cover all exposed skin.

If you need to buy new sunscreen for your summertime outdoor activities, I recommend choosing a broad spectrum lotion with an SPF of at least 30. Broad spectrum sunscreen protects your skin from all of the sun’s ultraviolet or UV rays. Apply it about 15 to 30 minutes before going outside and be sure to reapply every two hours, or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.

Enjoy your summer, stay cool and don’t get burned!