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What Am I Supposed to Do With All My Unused Sunscreen This Summer?

Believe it or not, folks, sunscreen doesn’t require a beach to be effective

Summer 2020 is canceled. Your ass is staying indoors. But what to do with all that sunblock you invested in last fall when it was on sale? Should you just toss it in the garbage? 

Before you do anything, consider this: You should be wearing sunblock year-round. That doesn’t mean you need to slather on a layer of SPF50 extreme sport water-resistant ghost paint before driving to the office (if the office ever becomes a thing again), but it does mean that sunscreen should probably play a role in your everyday grooming routine. Plus, the SPF50 kind is still good for sledding, apple picking or whatever other non-summer outdoor activities you might pursue. Some experts even say you should be applying SPF while working from home, since UV rays can travel through windows. This is all to say, if you’ve been reserving sunscreen for the beach alone, you’ve been doing it wrong.

But although sunblock is good year-round, sunny or cloudy, it does have an expiration date — for most, this will be around two to three years from when it was made. 

So, you should still have more opportunities to get some use out of it, even if you don’t go out much this summer. And while expiration dates are regulated for your safety, a sunblock isn’t going to be rendered entirely ineffective once that date hits. The trouble is, you probably won’t know if it doesn’t work until it’s too late and you look like you’re cosplaying as Sebastian from The Little Mermaid. Fortunately, expired sunscreen will often actually seem expired — if it has a more watery, uneven consistency than what you remember, it’s probably gone bad. It might still work perfectly fine a month or two after its date, but you’ll be taking a risk in finding out.

In short, then, whether or not you’ll be able to make use of the sunscreen you have stored away will ultimately depend on when you bought it. If you’re still riding on the last dredges of a product you bought three years ago, this might be the summer to toss it. Otherwise, the sunscreen you got good use out of last year should still be fine to get you to next summer — in the event you’re actually allowed to spend more time outside next summer, that is.