July 12, 2021

Is it time to throw out your sunscreen?

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Tips for how to best use that bottle of sunscreen — and when it’s time to buy a new one.

It is the time of the year when we’re doing more outdoors, from sports to gardening to pool time. And that means more exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Using sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect your skin from the damaging effects, which can not only cause premature aging (age spots, wrinkles and sagging skin) and sunburn, but can increase the risk of skin cancer.

The American Academy of Dermatology has put together these tips to follow when applying sunscreen:

  • Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher, is water resistant, and provides broad-spectrum coverage, which means it protects you from UVA and UVB rays. SPF stands for sun protection factor. The higher the number, the better.
  • Apply sunscreen before going outdoors. It takes approximately 15 minutes for your skin to absorb the sunscreen and protect you. If you wait until you are in the sun, your skin is unprotected and can burn.
  • Apply enough sunscreen. Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body. Rub the sunscreen thoroughly into your skin.
  • Apply sunscreen to all skin not covered by clothing. Remember your neck, face, ears, tops of your feet and legs. For hard‐to‐reach areas like your back, ask someone to help you or use a spray option. If you have thinning hair, either apply the right amount to your scalp or wear a wide‐brimmed hat. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm with a SPF of at least 15.
  • To remain protected when outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating. People who get sunburned usually didn’t use enough, didn’t reapply it after being in the sun or used an expired product.

It’s important to know that nothing can filter out 100% of the sun’s UVB rays, and all year long is a good time to use smart sun practices.

But if your sunscreen has been hanging around for a while it may have lost the protection it provides when it is new. The FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their original strength for at least three years. Throw out your sunscreen if it’s expired or you’re unsure how long you’ve had it. In the future, if you buy a sunscreen that lacks an expiration date, write the purchase date directly on the bottle so that you know when to toss it out. Dermatologists also suggest that it is time to get new sunscreen when it shows signs of changes such as color, smell or consistency.

It’s important to know that no sunscreen can filter out 100% of the sun’s UVB rays, and all year long is a good time to use smart sun practices. Your skin is exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays every time you go outside, even on cloudy days and in the winter. That’s why it’s important to also seek shade and wear sun-protective clothing — such as a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection.

To learn more ways to protect yourself, visit our post on how to prevent skin cancer.