Last year's sunscreen: Apply or deny?

How old is your sunscreen? / EcoHomeResource

It's time to break out the sunscreen if you haven't already. This week's forecast shows 90 degree temperatures with plenty of sun over the Tri-States.

Whether you use SPF 15, 30 or higher, there are a few warnings you should look for before applying.

Expiration Dates

If you have a stash of sunblock under the sink, take a look at the expiration dates. If you don't see a date, the rule of thumb is that the active ingredients in sunscreen (like zinc, titanium dioxide and Parsol 1789) should remain stable and effective for about three years, according to David Leffell, M.D., professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. But if it smells funny, feels lumpy or has a bizarro color, dump it. To keep your sunscreen as close to new as possible, store it in a dry spot at room temperature with the lid tightly fastened.

"If you have a bottle of sunscreen you used last year and you don't see an expiration date, I wouldn't use it. Throw it and and start fresh," said Joyce Hildebrand, a community outreach educator with Blessing Hospital.


Be cautious of what's in your sunscreen.

"The label should protect against UVA and UVB rays," said Hildebrand.

Some ingredients can do a number on your health. Your best bet to buying the safest sunscreens for you and your family is to pick ones with zinc and titanium. The trusted Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends avoiding the controversial ingredient oxybenzone because it is thought to actually alter hormonal systems. It TMs also recommended to avoid spray on or powdery sunscreens because the potentially harmful ingredients can be easily inhaled.

SPF Amount

The lighter your skin, the higher the SPF, but don't be fooled by any over SPF 50.

In 2007 the FDA published draft regulations that would prohibit companies from labeling sunscreens with an SPF (sun protection factor) higher than SPF 50+. The agency wrote that higher values were inherently misleading, given that there is no assurance that the specific values themselves are in fact truthful." Scientists are also worried that high-SPF products may tempt people to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburns (a late, key warning of overexposure) while upping the risks of other kinds of skin damage.

Once you've got the right sunscreen, remember to apply at least 30 minutes before going out in the sun and then every 2 hours after that. And don't assume a "water-resistant" or "waterproof" sunscreen will last longer.

"It's always nice to have somebody apply it for you because they can see the exposed areas," said Hildebrand.

For a full day in the sun, a wide brimmed hat, shirt and wraparound glasses are always reccommended.