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How Safe is Your Sunscreen?

The US Food and Drug Administration wants to test your sunscreen; should you be concerned?

Whether you slather on lotion or mist yourself with sprays, sunscreen is an important tool to protect your skin from the sun. This tool is actually an over-the-counter drug that the FDA regulates, and it does contain chemicals. Now, the agency wants more testing and data on what goes into your sunscreen.

What is considered safe? Should I check my label?

There are 16 active ingredients in sunscreen that the FDA can classify.1 Two ingredients (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) are considered safe and effective. Two others (PABA and tolamine salicylate) are not safe and effective. Don’t worry, though – you don’t have to check your sunscreen label for PABA and tolamine salicylate, because they are banned already from sunscreens sold in the United States.2

As for the other 12 ingredients, the FDA wants more information before coming to a definite conclusion, which is why they’ve proposed more testing.

If my sunscreen has any of the 12 ingredients, should I throw it out?

Absolutely not. These ingredients have been in sunscreen for years. The FDA isn’t saying those ingredients aren’t safe; the agency just wants to be thorough. In fact, in the recent proposal, the FDA recommends continuing to use the sunscreen you have.

When will this testing take place?

This is still a proposal. The FDA guidelines are open for comment until the end of May. Then, the agency has until the end of November to send the proposal to Congress. If approved, testing could take years.

What should I do in the meantime?

Practice good sun protection (American Academy of Dermatology recommendations):

  • Seek shade.
  • Dress to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Apply sunscreen to skin that isn’t covered by clothing with SPF 30 or higher.

The American Academy of Dermatology has a number of resources for you to check out, including How to Select Sunscreen and How to Apply. If you have any other questions or concerns, check with a board-certified dermatologist.


1US Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen: How to help protect your skin from the sun. https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm239463.htm. Last updated February 21, 2019. Accessed April 26, 2019.

2American Academy of Dermatology. Is sunscreen safe?

https://www.aad.org/public/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/prevent/is-sunsceen-safe. Accessed April 26, 2019.