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Hey, Hey, FDA! What do we want? Better Sunscreen! When do we want it? Now!

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always use sunscreen

5 Facts on Skin Cancer, Sunscreen and U.S. Pharmaceutical Policy

On my walk to the O’Neill Institute yesterday, I was stopped by a group of L’Oréal representatives handing out free samples of their latest sunscreen products along with information on the PASS Coalition, a lobbying effort on the part of cosmetic manufacturers and other consumer packaged goods companies who sell sunscreens. As a long-time Washingtonian, the scene of active lobbying efforts only steps away from the U.S. Capitol is quite familiar, and yet something about this particular effort struck me as odd. Intuitively, I just couldn’t understand why sunscreen would require its own lobby. Surely, with the seemingly endless varieties of lotions, creams, and sprays widely available in the United States today, the sunscreen business seems alive and well. Also, aren’t all sunscreens effectively the same, with just a different SPF number? Apparently, not.
By the time I finished reading the marketing material I received from the L’Oréal rep, I had reached my desk at the Georgetown Law Center and decided to dig a little deeper into the PASS Coalition and what lies behind their particular efforts to lobby Congress and the FDA. In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, I thought I would share the following five pieces of information:

1)   More than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S. alone and one out of every five Americans will be affected in their lifetime.
2) The most respected medical practitioners today in the field of dermatology recommend the use of sunscreen as one of the most effective preventative tools in reducing an individual’s risk of developing skin cancer.
3) While skin cancer rates continue to rise, so do sunscreen sales. The U.S. market for sunscreen is estimated to be >$1 billion/year.
4) Sunscreens, as typically sold in the U.S. today, often prevent sunburn, but many are not as nearly as effective at reducing the effects of the cancer-causing UVA rays as they otherwise could be, given the new technologies and ingredients. These newer sunscreens are widely available in other countries today.
5) Despite these new technology advances in sunscreens and their constituent ingredients, the FDA has not approved any new ingredients for sunscreens since 2002. There is currently new legislation being floated on the Hill, which attempts to address this situation.

There are likely many reasons why the FDA might be slow to approve new products, and clearly they have a duty to protect consumers from potentially dangerous substances, but I am left wondering why more isn’t being to done to expedite the approval of product ingredients which are already widely available elsewhere, and whose only real affects appear to be better protection from the sun’s most harmful type of rays?
As someone who follows the relationship between private sector, for-profit enterprise, and laws affecting health, I can only say that in this instance, it appears the profit-motives and public-health motives line up nicely on this issue. I wish the PASS Coalition the best of luck and hope the FDA considers some of the recommendations for expediting innovations in sunscreens. And, as an outdoor-loving, bald, fair-skinned man with a history of melanoma in his immediate family, I hope the FDA moves on this particular issue posthaste. Indeed, both industry and consumers would likely be most grateful.

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  • Raiden says:

    The simple reason behind the lack of sunscreen ingredients that have been in use since 1993 (and have not caused any horrible diseases) in Europe is this:
    In the USA, sunscreens are considered drugs.
    In Europe they are not.
    Similarly, it is harder to buy vitamin C in Germany (because it is considered a drug) than in the USA (where it is not).
    Moral: making things that aren’t really drugs out to be “drugs” is a guaranteed way to cause a massive pain in the arse.

    • Mike Templeman says:

      Hi Raiden, I think you make an important point, and one which furthers the argument that law often ends up being a more powerful force in public health than even the best available scientific evidence. Thank you for reading our blog and for sharing your thoughts here, too. -MT

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