The One Thing in Your Medicine Cabinet Doctors Want You to Check Right Now

published May 8, 2021
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Ah, sweet summertime! The sun is bright, the skies are blue, and you’re ready to hit the beach, the patio, the rooftop, and the road. But before you embark on any summer adventures, there’s one warm weather essential you need to check out first: your sunscreen.

I don’t need to tell you that it’s important to wear sunscreen every single day (it’s so important!), but you may need a reminder that the bottle in your bathroom cabinet could be past its prime. Sunscreen should be replaced frequently for optimal effectiveness against harmful UVA and UVB rays, so if you’re packing your beach bag, it’s time to take two minutes to check your sunscreen’s expiration date. Here’s how to level up your sunscreen game.

How long is sunscreen good for?

According to FDA regulations, a bottle of sunscreen is required to be usable for up to three years, but you should be going through it faster than that if you’re applying as frequently as experts recommend. That means, if you have a tube of goop leftover from last summer, you’re definitely not using it as often as you should be.

How much sunscreen should I be using?

You should be using about a shot glass’s worth of sunscreen all over your body, and reapplying it every few hours if you’re out in direct sunlight. To make your life easier and make sunscreen application a habit, consider buying a portable and convenient stick size to toss in your bag or keep at your desk. 

“Generally speaking, you should use about a quarter-size dollop of sunscreen for your full face and about a shot glass amount for the rest of your sun exposed body,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Associate Professor of Dermatology and Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “If you’re using sunscreen properly, you probably should be going through a bottle a weekend. If you’re still using the same bottle of sunscreen on Labor Day that you bought for Memorial Day weekend, then you are not using enough.”

Save the date.

Your sunscreen of choice may also have an expiration date on the back of the bottle near the bottom. It may look like a tuna can shape and will say “24M” for two years, for example. If you buy sunscreen without an expiration date, grab a Sharpie and write when you bought it on the bottom so you won’t forget to replace it on time.

Do you have to follow the guidelines, or is it OK to use a slightly expired bottle of sunscreen when you’re in a pinch? “You should always follow the expiration date because a sunscreen is an FDA-approved drug,” says celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau. “Therefore, the date on the bottle is when the FDA can confidently ensure its effectiveness. And sunscreen is the one product you for sure want to make sure works!” 

“Using an expired sunscreen doesn’t mean it won’t work, but we just don’t know how well it will work, which may leave you at risk for sunburn,” says Zeichner. 

Store it properly.

Once you’ve re-upped your sunscreen supply, it’s important to store it properly to ensure effectiveness. 

Sunscreen should be stored in cool, dark places; if you’re outside, keep it in a shady spot or tuck it in your beach bag to protect it from the sun. Refrain from keeping it in a steamy hot car or in direct sunlight if you can.

Be sure to keep an eye on the formula and note any major changes in texture, smell, or separation, which could be a clue that it’s time for a new bottle. “Due to the nature of sunscreen storage — maybe it’s left in a glove compartment in a hot car or a beach bag — you’ll want to pay attention to the consistency of it,” says Rouleau. “Any time a sunscreen changes, meaning it gets thinner or runnier, even before the expiration date, you’ll want to toss it and purchase a fresh bottle.” Sunny days — and fewer sunburns — are ahead!