The Sunscreen Innovation Act, a Bill recently introduced in congress promises to loosen up gridlock at the FDA to get it to act more swiftly on approving newer sunscreen ingredients—some of which have been available in Europe, Mexico and Asia for over a decade. Considering that skin cancer rates continue to climb, it’s too bad that it’s taking an act of congress to speed up the FDA’s examination of these new sunscreen ingredients.
In late July, the legislation passed the House. And just this week, the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions unanimously approved the measure by a voice vote. This should lead to full Senate approval before year’s end. But what affect will the Bill ultimately have on you, the consumer? Will it lead to better, safer sunscreen?
The New Ingredients—
The Public Access Coalition (PASS) is a coalition of health care organizations, sunscreen companies and concerned citizens that has been pressuring (they call it collaborating with) the FDA and congress to establish a “timely” protocol for reviewing these newer sunscreen ingredients.
A few of the most popular ingredients already widely used in many countries outside the US are Ecamsule, Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M. To answer the question of are they better than what’s in your sunscreen now, look at the chart below. The new ingredients are marked in red to separate them from the sunscreen ingredients currently approved by the FDA. As you can see, all three of these new ingredients provide excellent broad spectrum protection—meaning they protect from both UVB rays (UV that burns your skin) and UVA rays (UV that accelerates skin aging).
In addition to their broad spectrum effectiveness, these new ingredients are also more photostable—meaning they don’t break down easily from sun light. Having a more “efficient” UV absorber in our sunscreens would not only provide better protection for consumers, it would also make sunscreens more economical because less would need to be applied to achieve the same level of protection as the sunscreens Americans currently use. So maybe the obvious answer here is that these new ingredients would be better. But are they safer?
The main goal of this website is to educate consumers about sunscreen so they can be empowered to choose products that work the best and are SAFE. As the FDA examines the effectiveness of these new sunscreen ingredients, they will also be focusing on their safety. Let’s take a brief look again at the three new ingredients in the light of safety.
It should be pointed out that these new ingredients are organic chemicals like those used in our current sunscreens. In recent years, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), has run an aggressive media campaign railing against organic chemicals in sunscreen. This blog refutes their claims based on facts and research from experts like the National Society of Toxicology, the American Skin Cancer Foundation and leading dermatologists (read article). The EWG recommends using sunscreens made primarily with topical “mineral” ingredients like Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. These mineral compounds are ground into very tiny reflective particles that “bounce” UV radiation, rather than absorb it and dissipate it like chemical ingredients. But even these non-chemical ingredients have recently come under suspicion because of how they interact with sunlight when washed off in sea water. Spanish researchers working on the Mediterranean island of Majorca (read article) recently observed that the tiny mineral particles in sunscreen that had washed off of bathers, was reacting with UV radiation and oxygen. This unexpected event released other chemicals including hydrogen peroxide, which can inhibit phytoplankton growth and negatively impact coral.
So WILL these new ingredients make a safer sunscreen? Just like with ingredients in our current sunscreens, it will take time to find out. Initial studies of the three ingredients we’ve discussed here do show a good safety profile. But it has been over thirty years since Oxybenzone (one of the most common chemical ingredients in our current sunscreens) was first approved by the FDA. In spite of criticism of late by the EWG, the weight of scientific facts point to Oxybenzone as being safe. The process will no doubt be a similar scenario for these new sunscreens. Whether or not they make a safer sunscreen is a question that can only be answered over time.
The important safety message for consumers, at least from this blog’s perspective, is that the risks of NOT WEARING sunscreen, far outweigh any of the debated risks of wearing sunscreen that have been put out by critics or special interest groups like the EWG. The fact is that unprotected sun exposure over time, in many cases, does lead to skin cancer. And because skin cancer rates continue to rise, in our opinion, a safer sunscreen is the one you use!