Watch Out for Expired Sunscreen

Charlie, my five year old got burned this weekend, and I feel like a terrible mother. I know better. We all do. One bad sunburn in childhood can double the risk of skin cancer. I have to live with this, because at his age, disease and accident prevention is my responsibility – as if I don’t have enough to feel guilty about.

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This is me, drinking Chardonnay, enjoying the quiet after he fell asleep, and completely ignoring the fact his little back is on fire. Bad mom!

He was so irritable later in the day, looked exhausted and fell asleep on me at dinner. Only when I transferred him from the car, and he started crying when I squeezed him goodnight, did I realize how much sun he got. I felt so badly, I almost started crying, which is a far cry from my mother’s generation who used to tell us the first sunburn of the season was a good base.

I dropped him off at school today, and he immediately told the director of the preschool he was burned, and I immediately started making lame excuses. She wasn’t judging me, not even a little bit, and I still felt like I had to explain.

I even feel like I have to explain to you, so you don’t think I’m a negligent mother – what I would give for one full day with no maternal guilt. The truth is, it was really cold on the beach, he took off his shirt without me noticing, and it was a while before I applied sunscreen to his back. Bad parenting – sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure.

I also got burned on my cheeks and chest, and it only occurred to me later, he and I were the only ones who used a particular sunscreen. It is one I love. I got it on vacation, and it smelled and worked great! Oh wait, oh shoot! That vacation was over a year ago. I AM a terrible mother!

May is melanoma awareness month. It is also the month we start thinking about sun protection here in the northeast. If you are like me, you aren’t summer ready just yet, and are likely to grab a bottle of sunscreen left over from last year.

Remember this: sunscreens expire. They are designed to last 3 years at full strength, but this one was in a custom resort bottle. Who knows how old it was? Some sunscreens have expiration dates, which is very helpful. If they don’t, take a sharpie and write the purchase date on the bottle. Do not use sunscreen after it is expired, especially on your kids – the guilt will kill you. Do not use sunscreen if its consistency or color has changed, the heat can warp it. And, if there is no stamped date, like leftover chicken, when in doubt, throw it out.

For more information on skin cancer and skin cancer prevention, please visit the website of this amazing, grassroots organization, The Promise Foundation. Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer, and education is the key to prevention. Consider helping by making a donation on the website, or by spreading the word.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Doctor, mom of five and founder of Tips From Town.

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