• The FDA proposed big changes to sunscreen regulations yesterday.
  • Only physical sunscreens with the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are recognized as generally safe right now.
  • The FDA will issue new rules on chemical sunscreens and sunscreen labels in November.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed new regulations for sunscreen yesterday, which could majorly change what you’ll find in the SPF aisle in the months to come.

    Out of the 16 “approved” active ingredients used in sunscreen right now, the FDA stated only two are generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE), 12 require more data, and two should no longer be used at all. Other potential changes include what types of sunscreens are safe to use and how they’re labeled.

    The FDA set a November deadline for releasing a monograph, a.k.a. new clear-cut rules for the sunscreen industry, so nothing is quite final yet.

    Here’s exactly what the announcement said, and what it means in plain English:

    Changes for Sunscreen Ingredients

    There are currently 16 active ingredients allowed in sunscreen. The new announcement proposes that:

    • Only two ingredients – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – are generally recognized safe and effective.
    • Two ingredients – PABA and trolamine salicylate – are no longer generally recognized safe.
    • There isn’t enough information to decide whether the remaining 12 are safe and effective at this time. The FDA is currently asking the industry for additional data.

      What It Means

      The two ingredients generally recognized as safe — zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — are both mineral sunscreens that work as physical blockers on the surface of your skin, explains Birnur Aral, Ph.D., Director of the Health, Beauty & Environmental Sciences Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

      The other active ingredients in question are all chemical sunscreens, which typically leave less of a white residue. “Chemical sunscreens work on the principle of absorbing and dissipating UV rays,” she says.

      The Environmental Working Group has advocated against one chemical ingredient particular. “For a decade, EWG has worked to raise concerns about sunscreens with oxybenzone, which is found in nearly all Americans, detected in breast milk, and potentially causing endocrine disruption,” David Andrews, Ph.D., senior scientist at EWG, said in a statement.

      The two no longer considered safe — PABA and trolamine salicylate — have not appeared in products for years, Dr. Andrews told Outside.

      spray sunscreen tips

      Getty Imagesfizkes

      Changes for Sunscreen Types

      The announcement also called for exploring the use of sunscreen sprays, oils, lotions, creams, gels, butters, pastes, ointments, and sticks.

      The FDA may okay powders as well, but stated it has not received enough data on sunscreens wipes, towelettes, body washes, shampoos and other forms to include them in the new rules. It did, however, propose no longer recognizing products that combine sunscreens with insect repellents as safe and effective.

      What It Means

      Lotions and sprays dominate sunscreen sales right now, making up more than 80% of the market, according to a 2018 study. However, even though about 99% of dermatologists recommend sunscreen to their patients, only 69% recommend sprays, a 2016 survey found.

      With sprays, it’s harder to know if you’ve applied enough and there’s a bigger risk of inhalation, Raman Madan, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Northwell Health, previously told GoodHousekeeping.com. As of right now, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises never spraying sunscreen directly near your face or mouth for this reason.

      Changes for SPF Ratings

      The FDA also suggested raising the maximum SPF value allowed on labels from 50+ to 60+. An additional proposal would require that as SPF increases, the amount of protection against UVA radiation also increases.

      What It Means

      Even though you could see SPF 60 on new labels, it doesn’t mean the formula has twice as much protection as SPF 30. In fact, when properly applied, SPF 30 will block about 97% of the harmful rays that cause sunburn. “Higher-number SPFs block slightly more of the sun’s UVB rays, but no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UVB rays,” the AAD states.

      Changing the definition of SPF to also include UVA means that you’ll get more protection against the rays that primarily cause skin aging, not just the ones that that cause sunburns.

      Changes for Sunscreen Labels

      Finally, the FDA suggested changing the requirements for SPF labels. These would include:

      • Putting the active ingredients on the front of the package, like other OTC drugs
      • Adding an alert on the front if sunscreen has not been shown to help prevent skin cancer
      • Revising formats for SPF, broad spectrum, and water resistance statements

        What It Means

        These changes would make it easier for you to know that you’re buying a sunscreen that works — not just marketing jargon. Putting the active ingredients on the front could help you distinguish between physical and chemical sunscreens, if any chemical ingredients do end up getting recognized as safe.

        The FDA has already stopped manufacturers from calling their sunscreens “waterproof” because there’s no such thing — sweat and water will wash any formula away from skin. Currently, “water resistant” means it stays effective for 40 minutes in the water. “Very water resistant” means it lasts for about 80 minutes water, but these definitions could change depending on the information the FDA gathers over the next few months.

        What’s Happening Next

        The FDA won’t release definitive rules until the end of November, so this summer we’re all in a bit of a limbo. Dr. Aral believes many companies will or have already started revising their products based on the proposed changes so far. “The industry is going to likely to start coming out with all mineral formulas,” she predicts.

        In the meantime, you can contact the FDA for more information at 888-INFO-FDA.

          Caroline Picard
          Health Editor Caroline is the Health Editor at GoodHousekeeping.com covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news.


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