As the parent of a fair-skinned ginger-haired child, I’ve been diligent when it comes to sun protection. Well, I thought I had until we went on a week-long cruise through the Caribbean. Hats, long sleeves and multiple tubes of sunscreen were packed.
Day three we hit the beach in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for an afternoon of building sandcastles. Under a cloudy sky, my husband lathered our son with what was left of one tube of sunscreen while I cracked the seal on a “new” tube of SPF 30 for the ginger and me. With the cloud-cover and the sunscreen, I thought we were good for the few hours. I was wrong.
By the end of the day, the boys were fine but for the redhead and me, we were in trouble. The sunburn was excruciating. The sheets on the cruise ship were suddenly like 30 grit sandpaper. Sleep escaped us and we were miserable. The rest of the journey was spent in the kid’s club away from the sun.
The first call I made when we got home was to Coppertone to chew them out for ruining our vacation. Obviously, they get this call often because the representative calmly asked me to check the expiry date on the bottom of the container. There wasn’t one. Then she asked about the consistency of the cream. It was runny, not creamy and that should have been my first clue. I’d unwittingly bought a tube of useless cream, past its expiration date. Yes, sunscreen goes bad.
I contacted Dr Stewart Adams (M.D., F.R.C.P., F.A.A.D.) of the Market Mall Dermatology Clinic in Calgary to see if this is true and to my surprise, he confirmed that sunscreen can go bad – with or without going beyond a best-before date.
“Leaving your sunscreen in the sun or in a hot car will decrease the effectiveness of your sun protection almost immediately,” said Dr Adams. “Never leave it in the sun on the beach or dangle it from a backpack or golf bag.”
As for me and my ginger, we will always check the expiry date and the consistency of sunblock!