The FDA Is Aiming to Make Some Big Changes to Your Sunscreen
The proposed changes will make shopping for SPF much more transparent.
Photo: Orbon Alija / Getty Images
Despite the fact that new formulas hit the market all the time, the regulations for sunscreens-which are classified as a drug and as such are controlled by the FDA-have largely remained unchanged since the '90s. So while your fashion choices, your hairstyle, and the rest of your skin-care protocol has probably evolved since then, your 'screen is still stuck in the past.
Back in 2012, there were a few new guidelines, the major one being that formulas protecting from both UVA and UVB rays be labeled as broad-spectrum. Other than that, however, the rules governing sunscreens are somewhat antiquated.
Enter the FDA's latest proposed rule, which would implement some major changes across the entire product category. Among them: updated labeling requirements, as well as capping the maximum SPF at 60+, due to a lack of data showing that anything over this (i.e., an SPF 75 or SPF 100) provides any kind of meaningful additional benefits. There would also be a change in what types of products could actually be classified as sunscreen. Oils, creams, lotions, sticks, sprays, and powders can, but products such as wipes and towelettes (which are less studied and therefore less proven to be efficacious) will no longer fall under the sunscreen category and will instead be considered a "new drug."
The other major change that has everyone buzzing is addressing the efficacy of active sunscreen ingredients. In studying 16 of the most common ones, only two-zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-were deemed GRASE. That's FDA lingo for "generally recognized as safe and effective." Two were deemed ineffective, though these are outdated ingredients that almost no companies were using, notes Steven Q. Wang, M.D., chair of the Skin Cancer Foundation Photobiology Committee. That leaves a dozen that are still under investigation; these are the ingredients found in chemical sunscreens, many of which have other controversies surrounding them; oxybenzone, for example, can damage coral reefs. (Related: Does Natural Sunscreen Hold Up Against Regular Sunscreen?)
The Skin Cancer Foundation is on board with these potential changes. "As science and technology have advanced over the past several years to dramatically improve the efficacy of sunscreens, continued evaluation of the regulations associated with them is necessary, as is the evaluation of new UV filters that are currently available outside the U.S.," they said in a statement.
"From a dermatologist's perspective, I think this revamp is a good thing," seconds Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. "It's important to constantly be reassessing sunscreens and what we're recommending to people, based on legitimate scientific data." (FYI, here's why Dr. Gohara says "sunscreen pills" really are a terrible idea.)
So what does all of this mean for you? It's important to note that all of these changes are just proposed for now and it may take some time for the final ruling to be reached, says Dr. Wang. But if these new guidelines go into effect, it means shopping for sunscreen will become that much easier and more transparent; you'll know exactly what you're getting and exactly how it's protecting your skin.
In the meantime, Dr. Gohara suggests sticking with mineral sunscreens (and remember, for the most effective protection, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a broad-spectrum formula with at least an SPF 30). "They use ingredients that are proven, no question about it, and that the FDA has deemed as safe and effective," she says.
Not to mention that these formulas offer other benefits, namely protection from visible light, as well as generally being less likely to cause irritation and breakouts, she adds. (If you're looking for a good option, this multitasking Murad sunscreen is one of our go-tos.)
And, of course, it's always a good move to complement your regular sunscreen habit by practicing other sun safe behaviors, such as staying in the shade and wearing protective clothing, including hats and sunglasses, notes Dr. Wang.