During yet another rainy summer day this past week, I went on a tear—cleaning my house like a maniac. Sick of all the clutter that accumulates from our busy lifestyles, I moved from room to room like a tropical storm—carrying a trashcan and pitching or recycling what’s become useless.
Which brings me to my bathroom vanities, where I discovered a stockpile of old, expired creams, medicines, free samples and other tubes of goo just begging to be trashed. I was actually embarrassed to find four or five old bottles of sunscreen, shoved behind a mountain of shower poufs. The expiration dates had passed—a long time ago. Yikes.
But that’s a lot of sunscreen to pitch, especially at $8 a bottle. Do expiration dates really matter? Why? In general, what should we be doing during the summer to help protect our skin from the sun and insects and slow the aging process?
I asked local dermatologist Dr. Mary Noёl George to answer these questions. I thought you’d like to know what she said, too, especially about those combo sunscreen/bug spray products prominently displayed for purchase this time of year.
Do expiration dates on sunscreen bottles really matter? Why?
Dr. George: “Expiration dates definitely matter. If the expiration date has passed, the sunscreen is no longer as effective; its active ingredients have broken down over time. If you use sunscreen as directed—liberally and generously, a bottle should not last from one year to the next.”
What do you mean by “liberally and generously?”
Dr. George: “For sunscreen to be effective, you need to apply an entire ounce—think: a shot glass full—of the product to your body. And you should apply an entire tablespoon full to your face. That means that each bottle of sunscreen stashed in the back of your vanity should have been empty after only 6-8 applications.” (Okay, okay, I get it—no leftovers from now on! Doctor’s orders.)
What about products that combine sunscreen and insect repellant? These are so convenient, but are they a good idea?
Dr. George: I recommend using separate products—not combo products, especially those containing DEET. Because application directions for sunscreen and repellant are different, they need to be applied separately. Apply sunscreen first then the repellant. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or bathing. To protect your skin from insects, one application of a repellant with DEET is enough. A little DEET goes a long way.
The ingredients in sunscreens can increase your skin’s absorption of DEET by up to three times, increasing its potency—another reason why the combo products are a bad idea.
In addition, products containing DEET should not be applied to young children’s skin, making combo products completely out of the question. This is one of the big reasons why I like Mosquito Squad of Greater St. Louis’ product—it isn’t applied to the skin and therefore not absorbed into our bodies. We get the benefits of the product with absolutely no risk to our skin or overall health. The Squad’s product is a win-win.
In general, what should we be doing to help protect our skin (and slow the aging process)? What’s your best advice?
Dr. George: “Sunscreen is the number-one anti-aging, anti-wrinkle cream available, and wearing it is the single most important thing you can do to maintain youthful skin. And with sunscreen, you can protect yourself from skin cancers and therefore maintain your overall health. Second, ask your dermatologist about using a topical retinoid cream, like Retin-A, or an over-the-counter retinol. These creams gently exfoliate the top layer of dead skin cells and encourage new, plump, youthful skin cells to surface. They also help fade dark spots caused by the sun.”
Thanks, Dr. George!
BUG BYTE: Genetics account for 85% of our susceptibility to mosquito bites. Read here to find out why mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others.