The ingredients that absorb UV light and prevent it from reaching your skin can change or degrade with time and extreme temperature, diminishing the effectiveness of the sunscreen, said Dr. John Bailey, chief scientist with the Personal Care Products Council. If the product still looks, smells and feels right, you can probably use it for a year past the expiration if you're willing to take the risk (that is, if you tolerate the sun well), Bailey said. But if you're fair-skinned or burn easily, it's best to abide by the date. Other doctors, such as Glogau, advise people to buy a new bottle each year. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
Assortment of condoms (Seth Perlman STF/AP File Photo)
There are telltale signs that a product has gone bad. Moldy bread. Clumpy milk. The layer of fur blanketing the cream cheese. But what about the toothpaste sitting in your pantry for years after a zealous bulk purchase? Or those condoms waiting optimistically in your nightstand for longer than you wish you recall?
Many such products carry expiration dates, but thrifty shoppers often wonder if they really must toss dated items that still "seem" perfectly fine. After all, how can headache medicine stop working from one month to the next? And why should you believe the expiration date on one lotion when another doesn't carry one at all?
The Food and Drug Administration
requires that expiration dates be printed on all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but not on cosmetics — unless the cosmetics are also considered drugs, such as toothpaste with fluoride, anything with sunscreen, anti-dandruff shampoo and antiperspirant. But even then, over-the-counter drugs without dose limitations don't have to carry expiration dates if tests have proven they're stable for at least three years, which is why one sunscreen may have a date while another won't.
Expiration doesn't necessarily mean the product turns putrid or ineffective once the date passes. Manufacturers set expiration by choosing a date and conducting stability tests to ensure the product will still be good at that time.
Expiration dates tend to be conservative to account for a wide range of storage conditions and consumer handling, said Dr. John Bailey
, chief scientist with the Personal Care Products Council, an industry trade group. But for some products there can be a cushion. Here's a guide to products that commonly carry expiration dates.
Click this photo gallery
to find out when these nonfood items expire.