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Sunscreen Innovation Act - It's Been Too Long

by Will / March, 26 2014 01:30

US Capitol Building© Jeremy Buckingham

A bipartisan effort by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Congressmen John Dingell (D-MI) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the Sunscreen Innovation Act aims to streamline the approval process for new UV filters / sunblock active ingredients.

It is a long time coming and we are excited by it here at Block Island Organics...

What is the Sunscreen Innovation Act

The essence of the act is streamlining the time it takes to approve new UV filtering ingredients. These are also known as the active ingredients in a sunscreen (look at the back label of any sunblock bottle and you'll see what I mean).

The bill says that within 8 months the backlog of active ingredients must be reviewed and thereafter any eligible new ingredients must be reviewed within 11 months. It does not change what constitutes an "eligible" ingredient which largely says that an ingredient must have been in use for at least five years in another country in sufficient quantity.

Why is the Sunscreen Innovation Act Important

Currently 17 UV filtering ingredients are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No new ingredient has been approved since 1999. Since then eight ingredients, many of them in use in Europe and elsewhere around the world since the 1990s, were submitted for approval to the FDA.

Approval should be an easy process under the FDA's time and extent (TEA) process which was started in 2002. Under that process the FDA estimated it would take 90 to 180 days to approve new ingredients. None have been approved. Not because the ingredients were turned down, found unsafe or ineffective but because regulatory red tape prevented them going through the approval process.

Compare our situation to Europe where 27 UV filtering ingredients are approved. We have only 17 to choose from.

Why Do We Think the Act Matters

One, regardless of what you think of any of these new ingredients, we need a process to efficiently evaluate new ingredients as they come. Currently this process is broken. Fixing this is priority number one for the bill.

Two, although the eight ingredients currently languishing in the backlog are chemical based (at Block Island Organics we use mineral based UV filters - zinc, maybe titanium in the future - which are considered the safest UV filters) some are better than the current chemical UV filters. We believe anything that can improve the sunblocks available to the public is a plus.

What Are We Missing Out On Without the Act

One of the key reasons many of these ingredients are better is due to their improved UVA filtering. UVB and UVA rays - whether from the sun, a tanning bed or elsewhere - cause skin damage but a sunscreen's SPF only measures UVB protection. UVB rays are responsible for sunburn but UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, are a major cause of skin aging, are 30 to 50 times more prevalent than UVB, are 95% of the UV rays that reach the earth's surface, cause a bit of sunburn and may be a cause of skin cancer.

Unfortunately most of the chemical UV filtering ingredients approved by the FDA do not filter out UVA (the zinc we use does). This leaves most U.S. chemical sunscreens using an ingredient called Avobenzone. The Environmental Working Group has this to say about Avobenzone in relation to three of the eight ingredients awaiting FDA approval:

Among the chemicals approved for use in Europe are three – Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M and Mexoryl SX - that are more effective than avobenzone.

Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M offer stable, broad spectrum protection and appear to be much better UVA-blockers than avobenzone. They do not penetrate the skin for the most part nor act as hormone disruptors (Ashby 2001). They pose fewer potential health risks than ingredients in common sunscreens sold in the U.S.

Mexoryl SX, also called emcapsule, offers strong, photo-stable protection. It has been on the market in Europe since 1991 and has few safety concerns.

Why We Support the Act

We still believe that mineral UV filters are better and safer than chemical but we are all for improving the FDA approval process and bringing in chemical UV filters that are better than the current ones. That's why we support this bill. What do you think?

Curious for More?

If you want to no more check out our series on government and regulations or our suncare smarts posts.

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