Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

FDA Still Slow-walking Sunscreen Regs

EWG’s 2009 Sunscreen Guide finds some bright spots in the sun scene:

  • The number of sunscreens containing UVA filters doubled, to 70 percent of 2,000-plus products analyzed.
  • The number of sunscreens using oxybenzone, an endocrine-disrupting chemical, dropped by 19 percent.
  • Two of five sunscreens on the market in 2009 are judged to be safe and effective.  Last year, just one in five sunscreens passed both the “safe” and “effective” tests.

Obviously, there’s plenty of room for improvement.   Safer doesn’t mean safe. If you’re forking over $20 or $30 for a bottle of stuff that claims to block the sun’s harmful rays, it should block the sun. Knowing that your odds of buying an adequate product are two in five isn’t comforting.

The stakes, after all, are much bigger than the waste of a few Andrew Jacksons.   That excessive exposure to the sun causes skin cancer is a settled question. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer among Americans. Diagnoses of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, jumped by nearly 8 percent among men in the most recent two years for which figures are available.  The incidence of melanoma in women is also increasing, although more gradually.

Why, then, doesn’t the federal Food and Drug Administration make good on its plan to regulate sunscreens for safety, effectiveness and honesty in labeling?   The agency’s efforts to make rules governing sunscreens must have set some kind of record.

One of the most bizarre documents in recent government history is the FDA’s tortured sunscreen timeline. It begins on August 25, 1978, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, Godfather author Mario Puzo was on the cover of Time Magazine and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat won the Nobel Peace Prize for making progress toward resolving tensions in the Middle East.

It winds on and on, past the milestones, the decades past an August 27, 2007 proposal to have the FDA rate sunscreens for UVA effectiveness.

And then – nothing.  We got nothing.  Zero regulation out of the federal government.

So EWG keeps on trucking with its new, improved, more-popular-than-ever sunscreen guide.  This year, we’ve broken down our list into suncreens, lip balms with SPF and moisturizers with SPF – because you don’t have to be at the beach to get too much sun.

As our report points out, a new government study attributes an increasing incidence of malignant melanoma among people who work indoors to UVA rays shining through windows onto unprotected skin.


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