Does sunscreen expire? We answer all your SPF questions and reveal our fave products

Wondering does sunscreen expire, if sunburn turns into a tan or what SPF actually stands for? We've got you

Redhead woman applying sunscreen on a beach
(Image credit: Getty images)

If you've discovered an old SPF and are now pondering does sunscreen expire or notwe've all been there. Most of us know it's important to wear sun protection during the warmer months, but it's not always simple to stay across the best practise of actually using the stuff. That's why we're here to help.  

We've got answers to all of your top SPF questions, from the difference between chemical and mineral sun cream to how much you should apply and whether even the best foundation with SPF can come close to sunscreen for protecting the skin. 

The trick with sun protection is to treat it like any other part of your skincare routine. This means doing your research as you would to find the best eye cream then using it consistently much like your skincare acids or retinol cream.

With so many SPF products on the market and a whole dictionary of sun cream terminology being thrown at us, it can be difficult to figure out what we really need for our skin. So as well as answering your questions we have broken down sunscreen lingo and picked out the best sun protection products for you to try. Here's hoping for a year full of sun, outdoor activities and happy healthy skin!

Does sunscreen expire? Your SPF questions answered

1. Does sunscreen expire?

Bad news for anyone who has dug out a bottle from last summer or the one before that, as yes sunscreen absolutely has a use-by date. The average shelf life of sun cream is 6 to twelve months after opening, so sadly last summer's bottle is unlikely to be protecting you as well as it should. 

Leave your bottles in direct sunlight or high temperatures and their potency dissolves even faster.

2. What does SPF stand for?

  • SPF: Stands for Sun Protection Factor. The number signals how often you need to reapply to avoid burning from UVB rays.
  • UVA: Think A for ageing, these pesky rays are present all year round, travelling through cloud and glass to penetrate deep into skin.
  • UVB: Think B for burning, UVB rays vary in intensity depending on the weather. You’re most at risk in the UK during spring and summer, when the sun is highest in the sky.
  • Broad spectrum: Refers to sun lotions that shield skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

3. Do I need SPF in the UK?

As anyone who has been caught out by an unexpectedly sunny day on these shores will agree, you absolutely do. "While we may be more likely to get sunburnt in hotter climates, the risks from UVA damage in the UK is present all year round," explains skin health specialist Dr Anita Sturnham.

4. Is makeup with SPF as good as sunscreen?

Your foundation might promise an SPF, "however, by the very nature of their intended use, they’re applied a in far smaller quantities, and therefore are often not providing the same level of protection as ‘pure’ sunscreens," explains skincare expert and Ultrasun UK MD, Abi Cleeve.

5. How to apply sunscreen

Heading out in the sunshine? It's important to be organised and apply your sun cream ahead of time to avoid burning.

"Do it first thing, do it indoors and apply plenty," says Ultrasun founder and sun protection expert Abi Cleeve. "Any application in direct sunlight increases evaporation and up to 60% of protection can be lost."

6. Should I use acids in summer?

Yes, as long as you're careful. Ingredients that chemically exfoliate, like AHAs and BHAs, or speed up cell turnover, like retinol, can make skin more sensitive to sun damage. Apply SPF every day and limit these punchier ingredients to nighttime use.

7. Does SPF block Vitamin D?

According to a 2019 study by the British Journal of Dermatology, "using daily broad‐spectrum sunscreens with high UVA protection will not compromise vitamin D status in healthy people."

In short, the dangers of sun exposure far outweigh its benefits, so slather on that sunscreen.

8. Chemical vs mineral SPF—what's the difference?

As the name suggests, chemical sunscreens are absorbed into your skin, then use chemicals to absorb UV rays that enter preventing damage at a cellular level. Mineral, or physical, lotions sit on top of skin, reflecting away the suns rays. 

Which one you use really comes down to personal preference. Chemicals tend to have a lighter more elegant texture, which makes them a popular choice for daily use. However, if your skin is sensitive, physical SPF may be the best option as chemicals can be irritating. If you've ever experienced weepy or stinging eyes after applying sunscreen, try switching to mineral. 

9. Does menopause cause pigmentation?

As we hit the menopause, our melanin cells can produce pigment too quickly, leading to a rise in so-called ‘age’ or ‘sun’ spots.

Vitamin C will help fade existing marks, while strong daily SPFs will stop new ones from forming.

10. Is aftersun better than body lotion?

Depends on the body lotion. Essentially both are designed to hydrate the skin, but good after sun lotions are specifically formulated with cooling, anti-inflammatory ingredients as well as water-binding ones to deeply quench parched skin. "The biggest benefit from aftersun is its high water content which cools and hydrates," says Candice Gardner, Education Manager at Dermalogica.

11. Does sunburn turn into tan?

Trauma tanners, listen up! "A tan from inadequate protection that occurs too fast only causes the skin to burn and shed, leaving you tanless in days," advises Abi Cleeve. To deepen those tan lines safely, try a sunscreen formula that speeds up the process.

Best SPF sunscreen products