Americans feel the burn as FDA waits to approve new sunscreen ingredients

BY Rebecca Jacobson  March 21, 2014 at 12:36 PM EST
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr

U.S. sunblocks are over a decade out of date and the advocates are pushing the FDA to approve new UV-ray blocking ingredients. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr

Spring is here. But as you start packing for your spring break trip to the beach, you might want to consider importing European sunscreen. American sunscreen is about 12 years out of date, sunscreen and cancer-research advocates say, because of a hold up in the FDA’s approval process.

Sunlight carries two types of UV radiation which we associate with skin damage. UVB rays damage the surface of our skin and cause sunburns. UVA rays penetrate beneath the surface layer of skin tissue, and can lead to skin cancers like melanoma.

Skin cancer is a serious problem in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in every 5 Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives. Melonoma, the most deadly skin cancer, kills nearly 10,000 Americans every year, and the number of cases have been rising for 30 years.

In the U.S., most sunscreens use chemicals, such as oxybenzone and avobenzone, to filter UVA radiation. But those ingredients protect only against certain UVA rays, and they break down quickly, say skin cancer-research groups.

In the last decade, new UV-blocking agents have been developed for sunscreens, including a chemical filter called ecamsule, which was approved for use in Europe in the early 1990s. However, the FDA hasn’t expanded its approved list of sunscreen ingredients since 1999. Eight ingredients are currently awaiting approval, and ecamsule has only been approved in a handful of L’Oreal products.

Skincare product manufacturers and cancer-research advocates have recently teamed up to pressure the FDA to approve new sunblock ingredients. FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said sunscreen was “one of the highest priorities” in a 2013 Capitol Hill hearing.

Wendy Selig, president of the Melonoma Research Alliance, told the Washington Post that the hold-up isn’t fair to American consumers.

“We’re basically saying that the American people should make do with what was the most innovative science from 10 to 12 years ago,” she said. “Ask someone if they want to buy automobile technology from 12 years ago, or computer technology from 12 years ago.”