Yes, There's a Right Way to Store Sunscreen (and Throw It Out When It Expires)—Here's How

When it comes to SPF, proper storage and disposal matters.

We're all into bulk buying, but the one thing you should never buy in bulk? Skincare. And within the realm of skincare, SPF is probably the most imperative of them all.

When it comes to the proper storage and disposal of sunscreen, you really don't want to mess around—expired or spoiled sunscreen can cause major damage to your skin and, considering skin cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer in the country, it's important to use sunscreen responsibly.

We tapped two experts for advice on how to properly store sunscreen for the season and dispose of expired products. Spoiler: The sunscreen in your bathroom drawer you bought five years ago probably won't protect you this year.

Shelf Life of Sunscreen

The FDA requires sunscreen to maintain its full strength for three years, even if it's been opened. "If the sunscreen you are using has an expiration date on the package, be sure to use it prior to this date," says Brooke Jeffy, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Pore House. "If your sunscreen does not have an expiration date, you can assume effectiveness for three years past the purchase date, as long as it is stored at room temperature."

If your sunscreen doesn't have an expiration date on the bottle, Krupa Koestline, a clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants, recommends using a Sharpie to note when you purchased it and toss it if it's past three years. "Generally, you should be applying SPF so liberally that a bottle should be used up well before that three-year mark," she says.

If you suspect your sunscreen is past its due date, Koestline suggests looking out for the telltale signs of degradation in the formula. "Any time when the texture or color changes, showing degradation of the formula, you would want to dispose of it," says Koestline. "If it comes out watery and it's not supposed to, or if it's a darker brown color, indicating oxidation, toss that SPF and get a new bottle."

how-to-dispose-of-expired-sunscreen: bottles of sunscreen
Getty Images

Best Way to Store Sunscreen

As with almost all beauty products, store sunscreen in a cool place out of direct light. "Avoid exposing it to extreme heat or sun, like inside your car," suggests Koestline. "If you're taking SPF with you to the beach or pool, store it in your bag and in the shade." You also want to keep your sunscreen away from humid places like the bathroom, which is more prone to mold buildup.

Excessive heat and sunlight on a bottle of sunscreen lead to loss of effectiveness. "I always recommend applying sunscreen indoors before going out, but if you need to keep it with you outdoors, wrap it in a towel and keep it in the shade or in a cooler," says Dr. Jeffy.

Best Way to Dispose of Sunscreen

Disposing and recycling sunscreen really depends on where you live—every city has different recycling rules, and every brand uses different packaging. "Some components of the packaging can be readily recycled, while there might be a cap that's not recyclable," explains Koestline.

Ideally, you would use up your sunscreen before the expiration date, but if it has expired and isn't empty, "tossing the container and leftover sunscreen into the trash may be acceptable if your landfill is lined, which helps prevent unused sunscreen components from entering the water supply," says Dr. Jeffy.

If you're not certain whether your sunscreen is reef-safe, rather than dumping it down the drain, Koestline recommends scooping it into the trash can first. "There are no ide al solutions, really, except to be conscious of your SPF purchase and make sure you use it all up to reduce overall waste," she says.

Another option is to maximize your sun protection in other ways to minimize the need for sunscreen. "Minimize your environmental impact by wearing sun-protective clothing and wide-brim hats, staying in the shade, and avoiding midday outdoor activities if possible," explains Dr. Jeffy.

Was this page helpful?
Real Simple is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. FDA, Sunscreen: How to help protect your skin from sun. Accessed October 30, 2022.

Related Articles