FDA aims to ensure sunscreens are safe, effective

Proper sunscreen application is vital to protecting our skin from sun damage and skin cancer.

But, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the essential requirements for over-the-counter sunscreen products have not been updated in decades.

Now, the organization has proposed a new set of regulations to ensure that what we’re putting on our skin to protect ourselves is doing its job.

According to Dr. Melissa Piliang, of Cleveland Clinic, the FDA considers two main sunscreen ingredients to be generally safe and effective.

“The physical sun-blockers, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are the only two physical blockers we have. They tend to be deemed as safer; they don’t absorb into the skin. They just sit on top, and those are the ones that they said were generally considered safe in this report,” she said. 

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Facts you should know to protect your skin

The newly proposed FDA regulations also address the different types of products to determine which are effective and which are not.

While products such as sprays, oils, lotions, creams, gels and sticks are generally considered effective, the FDA said newer products, such as powders, wipes and body washes still need more research before they can be recommended.

And products containing both sunscreen and insect repellent are not yet considered to be safe and effective.

Piliang said the most important things consumers should keep in mind when it comes to sunscreen is finding a product that is broad-spectrum and applying it generously -- as research shows most people don’t apply enough.

To cover the entire body, she said we should use the amount that would fit into a shot glass -- or one ounce.

“When SPF -- which is sun protection factor -- is determined, it’s based on putting the sunscreen on at a certain thickness,” said Dr. Piliang. “Therefore, if you don’t put on enough, the coat is too thin and you don’t get the protection that you think you’re getting.” 

The FDA recommendations are still in the works, but the organization also reminds us that sunscreens are just one way to protect against the sun. Protective clothing, sunglasses, hats and seeking shade are also recommended ways to protect the skin.