Americans have plenty of sunscreen options, technically speaking. The aisles of any given pharmacy are typically filled with dozens of brightly colored bottles that claim to offer broad-spectrum protection as well as SPFs upward of 50. But lately, American sunscreen has come under fire with critics arguing that sunscreen in the U.S. could be a whole lot better. Media from Vox to Bloomberg to Business Insider have decried American options as being thicker, greasier, goopier, less pleasant to apply, and perhaps most importantly, less safe than their European counterparts.
In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it planned to take steps to make sunscreens safer and more effective. As part of that, the FDA says it is currently reviewing the 16 approved ingredients on the market — including zinc oxide, oxybenzone, avobenzone, and others — to determine whether they’re really safe for Americans to use. But the problem isn’t only that currently available ingredients could be more effective, but also that U.S. consumers have far fewer options to choose from compared to buyers in other countries.
“Some of the ingredients used in Europe give better coverage over the full-spectrum of UVA light, which is not fully covered by the products in the United States.”
The two types of ultraviolet (UV) rays that can contribute to skin problems are UVA and UVB. The difference is that UVB rays reach the top layer of skin and cause sunburns, while UVA rays are longer in wavelength and penetrate more deeply into skin. These rays play a role in skin aging.
There are a number of safe sunscreen products currently on the market in the U.S. Where Europeans might have Americans beat is UVA protection, says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a New York-based dermatologist. “Some of the ingredients used in Europe give better coverage over the full-spectrum of UVA light, which is not fully covered by the products we are using in the United States,” he says. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology supports the claim, finding that of 20 different…