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Is It Safe to Use Expired Sunscreen?

Overlooking This Tiny Detail on a Sunscreen Bottle Causes Major Skin Burns

It's 2017, and by now, we're well aware of the risks of tanning. We know to apply sunscreen every two hours, we know to put it on for all outdoor activities, and we know how important it is to apply even when it's cloudy. But what about expired sunscreen? What happens if we're following all the sun protection rules, but still manage to get a horrible sunburn because of an old bottle of sunscreen? I fell victim to a sunscreen expiration date, and now, it's the first thing I check before applying SPF.

I was a teenager on a family vacation in Delray Beach, FL, and literally all I wanted was to go back to middle school with a bomb tan. It was 2006, a pre-Instagram era — and since I couldn't show off my vacation with a bikini selfie, I needed to come into school with a tan to prove I'd been away. As someone with naturally olive-toned skin, this wasn't difficult. I have always bronzed easily, and if I burned, I thought it would just "turn to tan." It's ironic because it was on this Spring break trip that I burned, and it most definitely did not turn to tan.

I listened to my parents' nagging, I put on sunscreen and followed all the rules, and then I baked. About two and a half hours later, I woke up from my Nelly and Bow Wow-induced nap and was seriously burnt. I mean, the back of my classic white iPod must've been over 100 degrees and that's how my whole body felt. It was painful. How could I have gotten so sunburned when I actually put on sunscreen? Long story short, the sunscreen had recently expired and most definitely should not have been used.

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While most sunscreens are said to last at original strength for up to three years, it's the consistency of the lotion that matters most. According to Michele J Farber, MD FAAD of Schweiger Dermatology Group, "You can tell if sunscreen has gone bad if the contents start to separate. This means it may look different than it did originally; typically the color is different or the texture is not as even."

But, "If the sunscreen is intact (not separated) but expired, it most probably will be just as effective for sun protection as it was before the expiration date," added Dr. Neal Schultz, New York City dermatologist, host of DermTV.com, and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz.

The sunscreen that I used and suffered burns from came out of the tube looking melted and unquestionably "separated." Because sunscreen bottles are laying out with you in the heat or being stored in your car, the ingredients can break down and become less potent. As for which sunscreens last longest, Dr. Farber said, "Physical blockers like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are less sensitive to break down than chemical blockers, especially when in the hot Summer heat."

My reaction to separated, expired sunscreen was horrible peeling all over my body that left me looking like a brown paper bag for a week, an absurd amount of aloe products purchased, and unfortunately, a ruined vacation. However, the silver lining is that I learned my lesson and I hope no one makes the same mistake I did.

It is so important to check the expiration date and make sure to look at the consistency before applying your sunscreen.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim
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