Dangerous Sunscreens?

Maybe.  There are some things you should know.

The FDA has recently released big changes to sunscreen regulations.

  • The only sunscreens recognized as generally safe are those with active ingredients Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide.
  • New rules for chemical sunscreens will be issued by the FDA in November 2019.

The FDA tested 16 "approved" active ingredients currently used in sunscreen, and only two of those were designated GRASE (Generally Recognized As Safe and Effective).  Another 12 ingredients require more data and very importantly two ingredients should no longer be used.

  • Only Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide were generally recognized as safe and effective.
  • PABA and trolamine salicylate are no longer recognized as safe.
  • There is currently too little information to determine whether the remaining 12 ingredients are safe and effective.  The FDA is in the process of requesting additional data from the industry.

The GRASE ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both mineral sunscreens.  They work as physical barriers on the surface of your skin.  This is as put forth by Birmur Aral, Ph D., Director of the Health, Beauty & Environmental  Sciences Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

The other (12) active ingredients are all chemical sunscreens that typically leave less of a white residue that do mineral sunscreens.  They work on the principle of absorbing and dissipating UV rays.

Attention should be paid to sprays - which are only recommended by 69% of dermatologists vs. 99% that recommend sunscreens generally.  Using sprays makes it difficult to know if you've applied enough to any particular area.  There's also the danger of inhalation as explained by Manan Madan, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Northwell Health.  Also, the American Academy of Dermatology advises never spraying sunscreen near your face or mouth.

More upcoming changes:
The FDA suggested increasing the SPF values allowed on labels from 50 to 60.  An additional change proposed would require that as SPF increases the amount of protection against UVA radiation also increases - which is DOES NOT, currently.

Currently you might see SPF 60  on a sunscreen label.  That doesn't mean it's twice as effective in protection as another with SPF 30 on the label.  In fact, properly applied SPF 30 blocks about 97% of the harmful rays causing sunburn.  Increasingly higher numbers block slightly more of the sun's UVB rays, says the American Academy of Dermatology.

The FDA also suggested changing the SPF rating to specify UVA  which means you'll have more information about the UVA rays that cause skin aging - not just the UVB rays that cause sunburn.

Changes in labeling may include some or all of the following:

  • Putting the active ingredients on the front of the package, as is done with other OTC drugs - to help you distinguish between chemical and physical sunscreen.
  • Revision to the formatting of SPF, "broad spectrum", and water resistance statements.  The FDA has already stopped the use of the term "waterproof" since sweat and water will wash any formula from the skin.  Currently the best water resistance is about 80 minutes, whereas most sunscreens last only 40 minutes in the water.
  • Adding an alert on the front of the packaging if the sunscreen has not been shown to prevent skin cancer.


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