First off, let me make it very clear that sunscreen is widely overused. There are some circumstances where it is wise and appropriate to use but those cases are few and far between. For the most part, you just need to avoid the sunscreen and rely on sensible sun exposure. Get out of the sun or wear clothing the moment your skin starts to turn light pink.
Having laid that foundation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed new regulations1 to "make sure sunscreens are safe and effective." If enacted, this could have a transformative effect on the sunscreen industry as a whole.
Importantly, as I've noted on a number of occasions, of all the active sunscreen ingredients used in products on the U.S. market, only two — non-nano-sized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — have been deemed safe for human use by the FDA.
Yeah, I know what you're likely thinking. You can trust the FDA about as far as you can throw them. It's a captured agency and essentially controlled by the very industry it is seeking to regulate. However, there appear to be no vested interests here and I believe they got it right this time.
In its proposal, the FDA admits it does not have enough scientific data to draw any conclusions about the safety of 12 of the 16 active sunscreen ingredients on its list, and asks industry to help in providing more data to perform a "rigorous assessment" of all active ingredients on the market.
Two of the 16 ingredients, PABA and trolamine salicylate, have been deemed unsafe, or not generally recognized as safe (GRAS), and are not currently in use according to the FDA.
The proposal also includes broad updates to labeling requirements, as well as SPF-related changes. For the latter, FDA wants sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher to provide broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, not just UVB as is currently the case. Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research said:2
"It is important that, as this rulemaking effort moves forward and the FDA gathers additional scientific information, given the recognized public health benefits of sunscreen use, consumers continue to use sunscreen in conjunction with other sun-protection measures.