Sunscreen Regulations and Advice for Your Patients

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What are the new regulations?

All of this has culminated in the recent proposed rule, which includes several important proposals2:

  • Of the 16 currently marketed active sunscreen ingredients, only 2—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—are considered GRASE. Two ingredients—trolamine salicylate and para-aminobenzoic acid—are considered non-GRASE, but there is not enough information at this time to determine if the remaining 12 ingredients are GRASE. The FDA is working with manufacturers to obtain sufficient information to make this determination.
  • Approved dosage formulations include sprays, oils, lotions, creams, gels, butters, pastes, ointments, and sticks. Further information is needed regarding powders before they can be considered.
  • The maximum SPF will be increased from 50+ to 60+.
  • Sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher are required to provide broad-spectrum protection commensurate with the SPF, expanding on critical wavelength testing.
  • There are new labeling changes, including a requirement that active ingredients be listed on the front of the packaging.
  • Sunscreen products that contain insect repellents are considered non-GRASE.

What’s next?

The process for the proposed final rule has now entered a 90-day public comment period that will end on May 27, 2019; however, it is unlikely that a final monograph as mandated by Congress will be produced by the end of this year.

Sunscreen manufacturers currently are coordinating a response to the proposed rule through the Personal Care Products Council and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association Sunscreen Task Force. It is likely that the new required testing will be costly, with estimates exceeding tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. In all likelihood, the number of active ingredients that the industry will agree to support with costly testing will be fewer than the 12 that are now on the list. It also is likely that this process will lead to fewer sunscreen products for consumers to choose from and almost certainly at a higher cost.

What do we tell patients in the meantime?

According to the FDA’s rules, it was necessary that this process was made public, but it will almost certainly concern our patients as to the safety of the sunscreen products they have been using. We should be concerned that some of our patients may limit their use of sunscreens because of safety concerns.

There is no question that, as physicians, we want to “first, do no harm,” so we should all be interested in assuring our patients that our sunscreen recommendations are safe and we support the FDA proposal for additional data. The good news is that when this process is completed, a large number of agents will likely be found to be GRASE. When the FDA finally gives its imprimatur to sunscreens, it will hopefully help to silence those naysayers who report that sunscreens are dangerous for consumers; however, it has been suggested by some in industry that the new testing required may take at least 5 years.

What should dermatologists do when we are asked, “What sunscreen should I use NOW?” For most patients, I would explain the regulatory process and assure them that the risk-benefit ratio at this point suggests they should continue using the same sunscreens that they are currently using. For special situations such as pregnant women and children, it may be best to suggest products that contain only the 2 GRASE inorganic agents.


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