News from the FDA/CDC

FDA issues proposed order for over-the-counter sunscreens


Federal efforts to improve the quality, safety, and efficacy of over-the-counter sunscreens took a step forward today with the release of two orders aimed at updating regulatory requirements for most sunscreen products in the United States.

Dr. Theresa Michele

“We see it as a key public health priority and our regulatory obligation to make sure that marketed sunscreen products offer protection from the sun’s effects and that they deliver on those promises to consumers,” Theresa Michele, MD, director of the office of nonprescription drugs in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said during a media briefing.

When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed in 2020, the FDA was in the middle of amending a sunscreen monograph through the previous rule-making process, and the agency had issued a proposed rule for sunscreens in February of 2019. The CARES Act provided the FDA with new authority related to OTC drugs including sunscreens.

It also established a deemed final order for sunscreens, which set the current requirements for OTC sunscreen products marketed without an application. The deemed final order, released on Sept. 24, “essentially preserves the pre-CARES Act status quo marketing conditions for these sunscreens,” Dr. Michele explained. “Before the CARES Act was passed, sunscreens were marketed according to nearly identical terms that were described in an FDA enforcement discretion policy. For this reason, the agency believes that most sunscreens on the market today are already in compliance with this order.”

The CARES Act also required the FDA to issue a proposed order by Sept. 27 to amend and revise the deemed final order. Dr. Michele described the proposed order, which was released on Sept. 24, as “a vehicle to effectively transition our ongoing consideration of the appropriate requirements for OTC sunscreens marketed without approved applications from the previous rule-making process to this new order process. The provisions in today’s proposed order are therefore substantively the same as those described in the FDA’s 2019 proposed rule on sunscreens. With this proposed order, we’re proposing new requirements to improve the quality, safety, and efficacy of sunscreens that Americans use every day.”


The order proposes to update the generally recognized as safe (GRASE) status for the 16 active ingredients listed in the deemed final order. It also proposes that dosage forms that are GRASE for use as sunscreens include oils, lotions, creams, gels, butters, pastes, ointments, and sticks, and proposes GRASE status for spray sunscreens, subject to testing and labeling requirements.

Adam Friedman, MD, FAAD, professor and chair of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington, emphasized that photoprotection “is important for everyone, regardless of skin tone,” in an interview. “Broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 and higher play an important role in this. This should not be lost amidst the proposed order.”

Changes between the deemed and proposed order that he highlighted include a maximum SPF of 60+ (though up to 80 might be allowed) and that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are GRASE. “The FDA did not say that nanoparticle formulations of these, which are easier to use, are not GRASE; they are asking for community input,” he said.

Other changes between the deemed and proposed order are that PABA and trolamine salicylate are not GRASE and that broad-spectrum testing will be mandatory. In addition, Dr. Friedman said, “sprays will be considered for GRASE so long as properly tested, labeling should be clearer (and a warning will be applied to those sunscreens not shown to prevent all the bad stuff with UVR [ultraviolet radiation]), and bug spray–sunscreen combos are a no-go.”

The FDA will consider comments on the proposed order submitted during a 45-day public comment period before issuing a revised final order. “As part of this process, we’ll consider all timely comments submitted both in response to the February 2019 proposed rule and to the current proposed order,” Dr. Michele said.

Dr. Friedman reported that he serves as a consultant and/or advisor to numerous pharmaceutical companies. He is also a speaker for Regeneron, Sanofi Genzyme, Abbvie, LRP, Janssen, Incyte, and Brickell Biotech, and has received grants from Pfizer, the Dermatology Foundation, Almirall, Incyte, Galderma, and Janssen.

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