Sunscreen Safety: What You Need to Know
Here’s a quick round up of sunscreen safety facts from the trusted experts:
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has listed sunscreen use as an easy way people can reduce their risk of skin cancer2.
- The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes that scientific evidence supports the benefits of using sunscreen to minimize short-term and long-term damage to the skin from the sun’s rays3.
- AAD also states that the benefits of sunscreen usage outweigh any unproven claims of toxicity or human health hazard from ingredients in sunscreens, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide4.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)5 states that “given the recognized public health benefits of sunscreen use, Americans should continue to use sunscreen with other sun protective measures.”
What Chemicals are in Sunscreen?
Mineral sunscreens, also called sunblock, contain the active ingredients titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and protect the skin by deflecting the sun’s rays. Titanium dioxide is often a primary ingredient in sunscreen because it works well as a UV filtering ingredient.
Chemical sunscreens contain carbon-containing molecules that absorb light, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone.
What Does SPF Mean?
SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of how much UV radiation is required to produce sunburn on skin protected with sunscreen, as compared to unprotected skin. As the sunscreen’s SPF level increases, sunburn protection increases8.
The AAD states unambiguously that “sunscreen is safe to use” and that “no published studies show that sunscreen is toxic to humans or hazardous to human health.”9 For children younger than 6 months, AAD states that parents and caregivers should avoid using sunscreen, and instead protect young children’s skin from the sun by keeping them in the shade and dressing them in long-sleeved shirts, pants and wide-brimmed hats. For children 6 months and older, AAD advises parents and caregivers use a sunscreen that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which protects the sensitive skin of babies and toddlers10.
How do I know a sunscreen is safe for babies or children?
In general, according to AAD, when you see the term “baby” on the sunscreen label, it means the sunscreen contains only these two active ingredients: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
For children younger than 6 months, AAD states that parents and caregivers should avoid using sunscreen on these children, and instead protect their skin from the sun by keeping them in the shade and dressing them in long-sleeved shirts, pants and wide-brimmed hats.
For children 6 months and older, AAD advises parents and caregivers to use a sunscreen that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which protects the sensitive skin of babies and toddlers.
How is sunscreen regulated?
In the U.S., FDA regulates sunscreen products as over the counter (OTC) drugs. The FDA has several safety and effectiveness regulations in place that govern the manufacture and marketing of all sunscreen products (including safety data on its ingredients).
Other Frequently Asked Questions
How are sunscreen ingredients approved?
Before an ingredient can be used in sunscreen, it must be approved by the FDA. Currently, FDA has approved 17 ingredients for use in sunscreen, including oxybenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and several more are under FDA consideration11.
How do I know if sunscreen ingredients are safe?
FDA must approve any active ingredient before it can be used in sunscreen. To date, FDA has approved 17 ingredients for use in sunscreen, including oxybenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Several other ingredients are under FDA consideration.
How do we know zinc oxide sunscreen products are safe?
FDA has conducted extensive reviews on the safety of zinc oxide and has approved its use in over-the-counter skin protectants and sunscreen products at concentrations up to 25 percent.
How do we know titanium dioxide sunscreen products are safe?
FDA regulates the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens and their ingredients, including titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is included in FDA’s list12 of acceptable active ingredients in sunscreen products. According to FDA, active ingredients in sunscreen such as titanium dioxide protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Are DEET or other insect repellents safe to use with sunscreen?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is fine to use these products together. The CDC advises that people should apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second13. In general, CDC recommends use of separate insect repellent and sunscreen products. However, the CDC also notes that a sunscreen’s SPF level may decrease when a DEET-containing insect repellent is applied after sunscreen, so people may need to reapply sunscreen more frequently if using the products in combination.
What is PABA, and why is it used in sunscreen?
PABA, short for Para-AminoBenzoic Acid, is an antioxidant that can absorb UVB rays when applied to the skin and is an FDA-approved active ingredient in sunscreen.
What is homosalate, and why is it used in sunscreen?
Homosalate is an FDA-approved sunscreen active ingredient that provides primarily UVB protection when applied to the skin.