Majority of sunscreens would flunk proposed FDA safety tests

Nearly two-thirds of all sunscreens evaluated by the Environmental Working Group would probably not be considered safe and effective under standards proposed by the US Food and Drug Administration, the consumer advocacy group will announce this week.

The group will release its analysis as part of its 2019 Guide to Sunscreens, a yearly report on sunscreen safety that the nonprofit began in 2006.

This year the group said it analyzed the ingredients and performance of more than 1,300 products with sun protection factor, or SPF; 750 of those are marketed as beach and sport sunscreens. The analysis involves only a fraction of the sunscreen products sold in the United States today, which the FDA estimates to number over 12,000.

As the group has reported in the past, over 60% of the products evaluated do not offer adequate sun protection or contain potentially harmful chemicals. What makes this year’s report different, said Director of Healthy Living Science Nneka Leiba, is that the 2019 products were judged using FDA safety guidelines proposed in February.

“Even though we’ve come up with similar results in our guide before, comparing it to the FDA’s actual proposed standards is really strong,” Leiba said. “So the fact that 60% of the market seemingly wouldn’t be considered safe and effective by the FDA is a huge deal.”

The big deal of skin cancer

Skin cancer strikes more Americans each year than all other cancers combined. Melanoma, the most deadly form, accounts for only 1% of all skin cancers, but most of the deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Its statistics show that the rates of melanoma have been steadily rising over the past 30 years; worldwide, melanoma is the 19th most diagnosed cancer.

While many people today turn to sunscreens as their first choice for sun protection, it wasn’t until recently that sunscreen ingredients were regulated by the FDA, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, acting medical director of the American Cancer Society.

“We couldn’t even be certain what was in the product until the FDA came out with some rules that define how to test sunscreens and how to label them,” he said.

The need for additional testing

In February, the FDA called for additional testing of a dozen common sunscreen ingredients after finding that high levels of four of them — avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule and octocrylene — can enter a person’s bloodstream after just one day of use. The chemicals remained in the body for at least 24 hours after the last sunscreen application.

The most-studied chemical in sunscreens, oxybenzone, has been linked to damage to coral reefs and marine life, as well as lower testosterone levels in adolescent boys, hormone changes in men, and