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With the sun in the sky and the weather heating up, it’s time to slather on the SPF – or is it?
Six months ago, before the coronavirus pandemic started, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a new proposed rule to begin scrutinizing sunscreen active ingredients. Then the pandemic happened, and that rule was put on hold.
So, to sunscreen, or not to sunscreen? Here’s what you need to know to make a safe choice.
Before we look at what’s changing, it’s helpful to know what the original proposal contained.
On February 21, 2019, the FDA issued a new proposed rule that would update regulatory requirements for sunscreen in the United States. It would describe the general conditions under which the FDA considers over-the-counter monograph sunscreen products to be generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) and not misbranded.
The proposed rule would address sunscreen active ingredients, dosage forms, sun protection factor (SPF), and broad-spectrum requirements. The rule was developed as a reflection of our changing understanding of how sunscreen works and how it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. It also reflects the changing nature of sunscreen usage – more Americans are using sunscreen on a daily basis, and they’re using more of it.
As a consequence, the FDA turned its eye toward appraising sunscreens. Daily chemical exposure is a different animal than once-in-a-while exposure, and for this reason, the FDA wanted to strengthen its work with regulators and industry leaders to ensure that Americans are provided with safe over-the-counter products.
So, the FDA began to collect public comments and turn additional scrutiny on many ingredients commonly used in over-the-counter sunscreens.
Then the coronavirus happened. Or rather, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion aid package intended to relieve the economic burden of the pandemic.
Of course, it did quite a bit more than that. A provision of the CARES Act halted the FDA’s sunscreen evaluation process in its tracks, at least until the pandemic is over.
The problem is that Americans may not be able to afford to wait for sunscreen research to pick up speed. The FDA originally called for additional testing of sunscreen active ingredients after it found that six of the primary active ingredients can enter a person’s bloodstream at significant levels after just one day of use. It’s unclear how harmful some of these chemicals are (that’s why the FDA called for additional testing) but two of them, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been found in breast milk in multiple studies.
There are also environmental concerns attached to sunscreen chemicals. Florida and Hawaii have both placed restrictions on sunscreens that appear to damage coral reefs, but widespread federal regulation is still lacking.
So, as the summer kicks into full swing, should you still wear sunscreen?
Yes, because sun protection is still critical to your skin health. However, while larger federal testing remains on hold, you should do extra research to make sure you’re using the safest available products. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual guide to sunscreen safety ratings that can be quite helpful.
Who knew the coronavirus pandemic would even affect sunscreen? Then again, the pandemic has altered nearly every individual aspect of our lives.
We know that it’s a challenge to stay up-to-date with everything that’s going on in pandemic times. If you’re looking for easy, accessible safety resources, make sure to check out our blog, where we make it a bit easier to make sense of safety in these times we live in.
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