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Does sun cream go out of date? Your suncare FAQs answered

Phil Day: Superintendent Pharmacist | minute read

You might have stocked up on your holiday essentials, but have you considered whether or not your sun cream is in date? From understanding the information provided on your bottle of sunscreen to checking your skin type, we’ll keep you heatwave-safe in our sun protection guide.

Why do we need sun cream?

Sun cream is essential for protection against sun damage. Whatever your skin type, you run the risk of sunburn, premature ageing, peeling, and even skin cancer if you don’t use adequate protection.

Sun rays come in two ultraviolet types – UVA and UVB. The best sunscreens protect against both of these, including the deeper penetrative effects of UVA and the burning/reddening effects of UVB. For all-round protection, you should choose a high-factor, broad-spectrum sun cream.

How to choose the right sun protection

Your sun cream should have a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 30, along with a UVA rating of four or five stars. The higher the SPF, the better the protection. This is especially important if:

  • You’re using sun cream on children

  • You’re planning on being in direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm

  • You have fair skin that is prone to burning (see the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Chart for more guidance)

You should apply your sunscreen twice before going into strong sunlight:

-        30 minutes before you go out in the sun

-        Again just before you’re heading out

Remember to check the shelf life of your sun cream and ensure it’s still effective.

Wear loose-fitting clothes and choose a pair of sunglasses with the label, 100% UV protection or UV400 to adequately protect your eyes. A sun hat is also recommended for additional protection for your scalp and face.

Re-apply your sun cream at least every two hours, more frequently if you’re in and out of the water or sweating a lot.

Your sun cream questions answered

From tell-tale signs of skin damage to your sun cream expiry date, we address common questions about sun protection.

How does sunscreen work?

Sunscreen products reduce your risk of skin cancer by blocking or absorbing the sun’s rays. This comes down to two core ingredients:

  • Minerals including titanium and zinc oxide, which shield against sun rays.

  • Chemicals including avobenzone and octisalate, which absorb UV rays.

Sun protection factor is a measure of how long it would take the sun’s rays to damage your skin. For example, SPF 30 would protect you for up to 30 times longer than if you wore none at all.

How long does sun cream last?

A typical bottle of sun cream lasts for up to three years. After this time, the compounds start to break down and the level of protection begins to diminish, so you should always get a new bottle. Like all skin care products, sun cream does eventually expire too.

Always check the label for the expiration date. Look for the jar symbol, which will tell you how long it will last after it’s been opened.

How often should you reapply sunscreen?

You should reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, as it can dry in the sun. This should be more often if you’re swimming or sweating (even if it is waterproof), or if you’ve dried yourself with a towel. Reapply when changing clothes, aiming for around eight teaspoons to cover your entire body.

Who is most at risk of sunburn?

Everybody is at risk of sunburn, including in cloudy weather. Cancer Research UK advises checking the UV Index every day before exposing your skin. If it is 3 or above, you may need sun protection.

While nobody is immune to sun damage, you may be more at risk if:

  • You have light skin or hair, or lots of moles and freckles

  • You’ve had previous experiences of sunburn or a family history of skin cancer

  • You don’t have regular exposure to the sun unless on holiday

In the UK, the sunlight is generally strongest between March and October. Even if you have a darker skin tone, you’ll still benefit from UVA and UVB protection, as well as softer, more youthful-looking skin.

What factor sun cream should I use?

While dermatologists recommend a minimum of SPF 30, if you have any of the risk factors listed above, a higher factor of 40 or 50 is recommended. Don’t be fooled into thinking a lower factor, like SPF 15, will increase your chances of tanning. It all depends on your skin type and you still run the risk of melanoma, premature ageing, and heatstroke.

Stay safe in the sun

Remember to apply sun lotion and other SPF products before you go outside. Our extensive range of sun protection, from creams to lip balms, will keep you protected all year long.