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What are the health risks of expired sunscreen?

What are the health risks of expired sunscreen?

Come summer or winter, wearing SPF should be an important part of your daily routine. But what if your sunscreen has expired? Here's everything you need to know

It’s well documented that sunscreen should be worn everyday as part of your beauty routine. Most experts recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or more for maximum protection. If you use a large bottle of sunscreen, you might naturally assume that it’s ok to use it until it runs out but this isn’t the case. Like many of the beauty products that are part of our routines, sunscreen has a shelf life and using expired sunscreen can put your health at risk.

"Like many of the beauty products that are part of our routines, sunscreen has a shelf life"

According to experts at SkinStore, failing to check the expiry date on sunscreen is a pretty common experience, so much so that the hashtag #expiredsunscreen has over 20,000 views on TikTok. If you’ve been using your favourite sunscreen for a while and are wondering whether it might have expired or you aren’t sure how to repair or reverse skin damage caused by expired sunscreen, our guide will tell you everything you need to know.

How long does SPF last?

“Sunscreen can last anywhere from one to three years, although more commonly six to twelve months due to product breakdown once opened,” says Kimberley Medd, clinic lead at Face The Future.

Although all sunscreen bottles have a number with a "M" next to it to indicate the number of months until expiry, paying attention to the look and feel of the product is essential. Storage is the key to making your sunscreen last longer, so if you are leaving it in different places, always check it before you apply it and be aware of any changes in consistency and smell.

Sunscreen - dangers of expired sunscreen

Your sunscreen packaging should have an expiry date on it

Although sunscreen should be worn all year round, some people tend to gravitate towards it in the warmer months to keep sunburn at bay. However, direct exposure to heat can shorten your sunscreen’s lifespan. “Being left in direct sunlight, heat or with the cap off can cause sunscreen to expire quicker, so be on the lookout for anything unusual and throw it away if you’re unsure,” Medd says.

The best way to avoid expired SPF is to use it regularly. “Sunscreen isn’t just for summer or sunny days. Incorporate it into your daily skincare routine, regardless of the weather conditions or season,” says Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, medical consultant skin expert and founder of Adonia Medical Clinic.

Why is it important to check SPF expiry dates?

Sunscreen comes in many formulas, so there’s definitely something for everyone. Different formulations are likely to have different expiration dates. If you’re using a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide (a key ingredient in many sunscreens) and has a shelf life of 12 months, other sunscreens with zinc oxide might not have the same shelf life, which is why it’s important to check dates.

"Expired sunscreen loses its efficacy, which increases the likelihood of adverse results"

“If the SPF you have has expired, the ingredients are no longer effective as they decompose and become inactive. If you notice a change in consistency, colour or odour, stop using it immediately,” Medd explains. Expired sunscreen loses its efficacy, which increases the likelihood of adverse results.

“Applying out of date sunscreen may not protect you. It can expose your skin to UVA/UVB rays, which cause burns and put you at risk of certain skin cancers and sun damage,” says Rachael Robertson, skincare specialist and founder of Bedew Skin.

What can expired sunscreen do to skin?

When sunscreen expires, it loses its efficacy, so it won’t be able to protect your skin. Without protection, skin can be exposed to a number of issues such as burning and UVA/UVB damage. “This can lead to an increase in fine lines, wrinkles, dull/dehydrated skin, sun spots and loss of elasticity,” Robertson says.

Sunburn - dangers of expired sunscreen

Expired sunscreen leaves you at risk of sunburn

It can also cause irritation, rashes, breakouts and uncomfortable sensations on the skin after expiry, especially on the face as the formula breaks down over time, so if you aren’t able to tell whether your sunscreen has expired, it is worth paying attention to how your skin feels once it’s on. If you notice any changes, stop using the sunscreen immediately. 

How can skin damage from expired sunscreen be repaired or reversed? 

The good news is that skin damage from expired sunscreen can be repaired or reversed. To do this, you’ll need to incorporate certain ingredients and practices into your routine. “Cleanse gently with a mild, non-irritating cleanser to remove any impurities without irritating the skin and apply a soothing and hydrating moisturiser which contains ingredients like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid to help calm the skin,” Ejikeme says.

As for serums, ingredients such as vitamin C and niacinamide are great choices due to their ability to rejuvenate damaged skin. Sunscreen needs to be worn on a daily basis, so you’ll still need to use it while your skin heals. Ejikeme recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF such as CeraVe’s Facial Moisturising Lotion SPF50 while Robertson recommends Heliocare’s range. 

"The good news is that skin damage from expired sunscreen can be repaired or reversed"

When repairing skin damage, the most important thing you can do to maintain your skin barrier’s health is to focus on moisture, hydration and protection so ingredients like ceramides, squalene and glycerin would be welcome additions to your routine.

“When maintaining the health of your skin barrier, avoid high percentage AHA/BHAs like salicylic acid and glycolic acid as well as abrasive scrubs and products which contain essential oils as they can be harsh and drying, causing further damage,” Robertson explains.

Depending on how severe the damage is, you might want to opt for an in-clinic treatment. According to Robertson, cryotherapy and laser treatments can help with this and for those who prefer a holistic approach, a diet rich in antioxidants can also be beneficial, although it might take a little bit longer to see results.

The final takeaway

Sunscreen is a staple in many people’s beauty routines and rightly so. The benefits of wearing a high protection SPF are second to none. They don’t just reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, they also protect skin against inflammation, premature ageing and most importantly, sunburn.

Depending on the brand you use, your sunscreen might be a little pricier than other options available, so it may be tempting to want to use it up completely but if you notice a change in its appearance, the best thing to do is to stop using it completely. As TikTok shows, skin damage caused by sunscreen is very real. While it can be repaired or reversed, you’ll need to re-evaluate your current skincare routine and incorporate ingredients that will restore your skin barrier’s health.

Whether you take a ritualistic, holistic or in-clinic approach, consistency and patience are key to treating any skin damage caused by sunscreen—just don’t forget to check the expiry dates of any sunscreen you use in the meantime!

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