When I’m at ABC News I get a lot of questions about what it’s like to be a dermatologist. And when I’m seeing patients there’s a lot of curiosity about my work as a Medical Contributor and Investigative Reporter at ABC News. It’s a deep privilege to be able to do both. This morning my dermatology and reporter worlds collided on Good Morning America. ABC News correspondent Gio Benitez, all-star GMA producer Sarah Messer, and I sent out a reminder to GMA viewers- sunscreen doesn’t last forever, just a few seasons really.
The #GMAInvestigates team heard about expired sunscreens and wanted to know just how much of it was out there and how often people were using it. As a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon who specializes in skin cancer, I am in a constant state of reminding people (including myself) to use sunscreen regularly. What I didn’t realize was that often people are using expired sunscreen that may not be giving them the sun protection they think they’re getting.
We went to a sunny and windy beach in New Jersey and asked beachgoers if we could check out their sunscreen. Everyone we met was happy to open their beach bag to our cameras and within minutes we had expired sunscreen in our hands. Five out of nine beachgoers we spoke to in just the first hour had at least 1 bottle of expired sunscreen with them.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations require all sunscreens to have an expiration date. If a bottle doesn’t have an expiration date, containers may have a code stamped on the container that needs to be deciphered to figure out the expiration date. And if the container doesn’t have any information at all about an expiration date, the FDA says the product should be considered expired three years after it was purchased.
But all this is a bit confusing for consumers, patients, and even dermatologists- especially because the GMA Investigates team was able to purchase expired sunscreens from retailers across the country. The GMA Investigates team went to 17 stores in 4 states and was able to buy 68 expired sunscreen off store shelves.
Expired sunscreen isn’t guaranteed to protect you from the sun as much as the bottle says. We don’t know exactly how much effectiveness is lost when a sunscreen is expired, but we do know that many of the chemicals in sunscreens breakdown over time and especially after being exposed to light or extreme heat and humidity.
One thing you can do now to help maximize a sunscreen’s benefit is to store your sunscreen bottle in a cool place. Wrapping your sunscreen in a towel, keeping it in the shade or even storing it in a cooler can help.
And a few numbers from the Skin Cancer Foundation help show why safe and effective sunscreen is important.
- On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.
- Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.
- Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent.
- About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
So, this summer, apply sunscreen, reapply every 2 hours, and if you do see a spot on your skin that you’re worried about – summer, winter, spring, or fall- call your dermatologist.