The Key to Better Sunscreen Lies in the FDA's Hands
Nearly any health care professional will tell you the importance of slathering on sunscreen—especially now that the weather is warming up—and there's plenty of science to support sunscreen's role in blocking cancer-causing ultraviolet A and B rays. But a recent Newsweek report highlights that sunscreen's effectiveness in the United States could be restricted by the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has rejected proposals to make certain protective agents legal for commercial use—despite the fact that they're successfully being used overseas already.
Those in Europe and Asia have access to more effective sunscreens that are better received by consumers—including varieties that aren't oily, absorb more effectively into skin, and don't leave the hallmark white streaks Americans are used to seeing after a day at the beach. Plus, formulas for sunscreen in many foreign countries come loaded with Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M, Mexoryl SX, and Mexoryl XL, which are extremely effective protections against damage caused by ultraviolet radiation, Newsweek reports.
These protective agents aren't approved yet because, unlike other foreign nations, sunscreen is considered a nonprescription drug (rather than a cosmetic item), so it’s regulated by the FDA. Also, in the United States, sunscreens can only contain three of 21 approved chemicals to help prevent skin damage caused by the sun.
But the FDA's reputation for being slow to change also extends to legalizing chemicals for commercial use in sunscreen production here in America, according to reports. The last time a new protective agent was approved for use in the U.S. was in 1999—and that was only after years of testing and evaluation.
To combat this, members of U.S. Congress proposed the Sunscreen Innovation Act in 2014, which was signed into law by President Obama, in an attempt to force the FDA's hand. But despite a 180-day deadline for a decision on proposals for new chemicals, the FDA ended up rejecting all eight applications for new sunscreen additives by February 2015, claiming it didn't have enough evidence to support legalization.
Furthermore, the FDA asked manufacturers to provide more data, but Sandy Walsh, an FDA spokeswoman, tells Newsweek that new data was never submitted and there's currently no applications for new chemicals.
While Walsh claims that more people are using sunscreen than they have in the last 40 years, the FDA's inability to legalize new scientific technology to advance sunscreen effectiveness could be a factor in overall skin health here in the United States.
Per the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 76,000 people were diagnosed with some form of melanoma in 2014, and the American Cancer Society estimates that 91,000 plus Americans will be diagnosed with the serious form of skin cancer this year. The bottom line? We need to be taking our sunscreen seriously.