Sunscreen is essential all year round, but we definitely think more about it when we’re able to spend extra time outdoors soaking up some warm rays. However, before your slather yourself, you should think about how long you’ve had that bottle and whether or not it’s still doing you any good.
According to the FDA, they regulate all sunscreens before they make it to a store’s shelf. The organization require the products to have an expiration date stamped on their packaging unless they’ve gone through testing that proves it will remain stable for three years. So, if you have a bottle that doesn’t show a specific date, try to remember how long ago you purchased it. If it was less than three years ago, you’re most likely still getting protection — but you should probably be using it more often if you’re still reaching for the same bottle after that long.
“Any ingredient in a personal care product — even inactive ones, like emulsifiers and preservatives — can degrade over time,” Dr. Lauren Ploch, a dermatologist, explained to Live Science. But that’s not the only factor that you should keep in mind. “This degradation is often accelerated by suboptimal storage conditions, so storing sunscreen in a hot car may make it ineffective even before its expiration date.”
The same goes for letting sunscreen sit out in hot weather while you enjoy a day at the beach, a nice picnic, or other extended periods outside. In those situations, the FDA recommends wrapping the bottle in a towel or keeping it in the shade to avoid heating up. You can also pop it into a cooler you’ve brought with you for food or drinks. This is why all sunscreens also come with the warning, “Protect the product in this container from excessive heat and direct sun.”
Once you’re confident you have a sunscreen that will get the job done, remember to apply it 15 minutes before you head outside to allow it time to absorb and provide the most protection. And, of course, reapply frequently!