As temperatures rise, you might be preparing for more park and beach days. This increase in sun exposure means you'll need to start applying, and reapplying, sunscreen more frequently.
"Dermatologists recommend at least an SPF 30, if not higher," says Jenna Rosenstein, beauty director at Bazaar.com. "Anything lower than that usually doesn't deliver enough protection."
Last year's leftover bottle under your sink may not offer the protection you need. Here's when to throw out your sunscreen and what to know about buying a new bottle.
Sunscreen does expire and you can find its expiration date on the bottle, Rosenstein says. "Sometimes it's hidden in the crease of the tube and is hard to read," she says.
Unlike expiration dates on some food items, expiration dates on sunscreen are important to heed. "It would be so tragic to cover yourself in sunscreen and still get sunburned because you're using sunscreen that is five years old," she says.
If you can find the expiration date, adhere to that, Rosenstein says: "If the sunscreen is past the expiration date, toss it out."
If not, try to remember when you bought it. If you've had it for less than a year, it's probably OK to use. "I would say, a general rule of thumb is it can last anywhere from 1 to 2 years," Rosenstein says.
If your sunscreen is not past its expiration date but the formula feels different, that is also an indicator it might be time to get a new bottle. "A common sign that sunscreen has gone bad, even if the date is OK, is a change in the texture, like a runny liquid," she says. "If there is any change in texture, smell, or application, toss it out."
To make your sunscreen last as long as possible, don't keep it in a humid or steamy bathroom, Rosenstein says. You also don't want to leave it outside in the sun.
"To get the longest shelf life from your sunscreen, be sure to close the lid tightly after use and store it in a cool, dark place," she says. "Some people keep it in the fridge, but you don't have to go that far."
In the United States, sunscreens are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which allows so few ingredients to be in sunscreen that most commercially available formulas will contain the same ingredients, regardless of price. "Any sunscreen carrying an SPF claim — whether it costs $5 or $50 — has been vetted by the FDA," Rosenstein says. "Some of the best sunscreens out there are from the drugstore."
Generic sunscreen is just as effective and it's also more affordable, says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. "Opt for generic or store brands to save around 20% to 30% compared to name brands."
To get the best deals on sunscreens, shop at warehouse clubs such as Costco or Sam's Club, says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com. "The important thing to know is the price per ounce," she says. "One of the best places you can check that is warehouse stores."
Video by David Fang
Another trick to cut costs: Use funds from a health flexible spending account or health savings account, if you have one. These funds let workers put aside pre-tax dollars to cover eligible medical expenses, and sunscreen with SPF of 15 or greater qualifies.
Still, make sure you're not buying more sunscreen than you can possibly use before it expires. "If you likely won't use it all before it expires then you could end up throwing money away," she says. "However, if you have a large family or spend a lot of time in the sun, then odds are it's a solid purchase."
But the most important quality a sunscreen should have, Rosenstein says, is that you actually want to wear it and reapply it every two hours: "Find your favorite formula — mist, spray-on, cream, serum, drugstore, designer — and use it every single day."
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