Sunscreen is a must-have, especially during the hot summer. Products from Neutrogena, Aveeno, Hawaiian Tropic, and more line the shelves in U.S. drugstores and supermarkets, but finding an effective one can be tough because there are so many options.
Sunscreen from other countries, such as Japan and South Korea, might be a better option because they offer more protection and feel better on your skin, according to The Atlantic staff writer Amanda Mull.
The main difference between the sunscreens sold in the U.S. versus overseas: their filters.
“They're what prevents you from getting sunburned. And they either, depending on what kind they are, block the UVA and UVB rays from reaching your skin, or they absorb them before they can penetrate your skin,” Mull explains.
Domestically, the FDA regulates every active ingredient that goes into sunscreen, including filters. In different countries, cosmetic companies are constantly using newer and more advanced formulas and filters, Mull says.
While the regulation is good for consumer health and safety, Mull says it also makes it challenging for new products to emerge on the American market.
Companies are also looking out for their own bottom lines: “A single company has to bring one of these ingredients before the FDA and then provide all that data to support it. You get [in] between a rock and a hard place because they're proposing ingredients to be approved and not particular products. So once those ingredients are approved, all of that company's competitors can also use them. So there's very little incentive for a single company to invest an enormous amount of money in providing all of the safety data when it doesn't give them a particular competitive advantage in the American market.”
The last time the FDA approved a new sunscreen ingredient was in the 1990s, Mull says. Today, there are new components that chemists and dermatologists want to see added, but nothing’s changed.
That includes chemicals that could extend sunscreen’s shelf life, reduce the amount of times it needs to be reapplied, or feel less greasy.
More expensive products, like those from Glossier, can have better ingredients, but Mull says they’re not cost-effective and accessible to a larger demographic.
“When you're looking at lower price points, or when you're looking for an all-over body sunscreen that’s still affordable, that things can get a little bit difficult,” she explains. “From a public health perspective, you want really good, effective, elegant, easy-to-wear pleasant products to be available,” she explains.