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Parents Beware: FDA Report Claims Popular Sunscreens Might Not Be Safe or Effective

Photograph by Gettty Images

Slathering kids in sunscreen has been every parent's M.O. since the stuff was invented. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now calling for more research on chemicals commonly found in over-the-counter sunscreen, raising concerns that many aren't actually as safe as we once thought — which is a major deal for parents trying to protect their little ones from the sun's rays.

The FDA on Thursday proposed new sunscreen regulations on ingredient safety, dosage requirements and SPF and broad-spectrum guidelines.

"Since the initial evaluation of these products, we know much more about the effects of the sun and about sunscreen's absorption through the skin," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, according to CNN.

Unfortunately, it seems that many of the ingredients thought to be vital in protecting skin may not be as safe or as effective as many once thought.

After testing 16 chemicals commonly used as main ingredients in sunscreen, only two were deemed safe by the FDA. Those two chemicals — in case you want to run to your medicine cabinet and check your sunscreen right now — were zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, according to Reuters.

PABA and trolamine salicylate were not, however, and are no longer permitted for use in non-prescription sunscreen products under the new guidelines. As for the other 12 chemicals tested, those are the ones the FDA is calling for more research on.

So, what does it all mean?

Check your medicine cabinet — and know what's in your sunscreen. If you've got mineral-based sunscreen at home, you're probably fine. Also sometimes called "natural" sunscreens, these are typically made with just zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide (aka the ones just marked safe by the FDA). If you're reading the back of the tube and seeing an endless list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals — including some of those deemed unsafe — you should probably toss it.

The FDA is also asking for additional testing on sun protection products such as wipes, towelettes, body washes, shampoos and other similar items involving sun protection factor (SPF) not evaluated during this report, so if you have those in your cabinet too, just know there may be more info to come. You can also take a deeper dive on the subject by checking out last year's report by the Environmental Working Group on the best and worst sunscreens.

Remember: The higher the SPF, the better.

Broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of at least 15 are critical to the arsenal of tools for preventing skin cancer and protecting the skin from damage caused by the sun’s rays, yet some of the essential requirements for these preventive tools haven’t been updated in decades,” Gottlieb told Reuters.

In addition, the FDA plans to raise the maximum proposed SPF from SPF 50+ to SPF 60+.

There's still a lot more research that needs to be done, but at least some changes are finally on their way. The good news is more stringent regulations will ultimately push sunscreen brands to reformulate — and quickly. It may have been a long time coming, but a broader range of safer sunscreen products can only be a good thing. For all of us.

This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site Cafe Mom.

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