Sunscreen: Does It Even Work Anymore?


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You probably grew up wearing sunscreen and knowing that it protected your skin against the sun’s harmful rays. For decades, doctors and dermatologists have warned that not wearing sunscreen can make you more susceptible to cancer and even cause your skin to age faster. Sunscreen is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and enjoy the outdoors in the summer.

While sunscreen is still popular, it may not be as effective as once thought. Little has changed in the sunscreen industry and although different brands come and go, you are still wearing the same sunscreen that your mom was slathering on you as a child. So what’s the problem?

Other countries have created new sunscreens that contain ingredients that are more effective at protecting the skin from UV rays. The sunscreens used in the United States do not contain these new ingredients and dermatologists and cancer researchers warn that they may not be offering the same protection.

These same dermatologists and cancer researchers claim that the FDA is to blame for the poor quality of sunscreen in the United States. Sunscreen companies may wish to add new and better ingredients to their products, but if the FDA does not review or approve these ingredients, the sunscreen cannot be sold. The FDA has a huge backlog of pending reviews and seems to have no interest in processing them.

The FDA says that the health and wellbeing of citizens is their number one concern and that they are cautious of approving certain ingredients because they do not know if they are safe. Dermatologists say that this is not a good enough excuse.

“These sunscreens are being used by tens of millions of people every weekend in Europe, and we’re not seeing anything bad happening,” said Darrell Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University and past president of the American Academy of Dermatologists. “It’s sort of crazy. ... We’re depriving ourselves of something the rest of the world has.”

The FDA is aware of the problem and promises to make the pending sunscreen applications one of their top priorities. Even though the FDA may begin reviewing these applications, it doesn’t mean the new products will be approved any faster.

The agency must undertake a lengthy rule-writing process before it can add to the list of active ingredients approved for sunscreens. It will only approve applications that provide safety data and show that the ingredients they want to use in their sunscreen are safe for people to use.

Do you wear sunscreen?

Image via Wikimedia Commons