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EWG to FDA: Sunscreen Regs a Good Step, Not Enough

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nearly thirty-three years after the federal Food and Drug Administration announcing its intention to develop sunscreen regulations, it finally finalized some of its rules this summer. And while we at the Environmental Working Group were pleased with some of the progress made, in some key areas the FDA didn't go far enough to protect public health.

So when the agency asked for comments, EWG weighed in and requested additional, more health-protective measures.

New Sunscreen Rules: Some Progress, Some Shortcomings
In June we blogged about the new rules' shortcomings. Our comments to the FDA raise those issues in a formal way. The rules set a very low bar for sunscreens to qualify as "broad-spectrum." If most sunscreens score an easy A, consumers will get a false sense of protection. The rules also fail to advance the investigation of new active ingredients (used in sunscreens in Europe) that could prove to be safe and effective tools in the fight to prevent skin cancer.

But the new rules do provide consumers with better information, promote more effective use of sunscreens, and help to ensure the safety of products on the market. Our letter to the FDA reflects these positive steps as well.

FDA's Unfinished Business
EWG urges the FDA to make good on its proposal to cap SPF labeling at "50 Plus." Products with SPF values above 50 have not been shown to provide additional clinical benefit. Studies show that people who use high-SPF sunscreens tend to stay out in the sun for longer periods of time - without applying another layer - than do people who use lower SPF sunscreens. Consumers believe that the higher the SPF level, the greater the protection though, in fact, SPF levels above 50 do not provide significant increases in protection from the sun's ultra-violet rays.

We also support the FDA's plan to study the safety of sunscreen sprays. Aerosolized chemical ingredients present unique risks to health because they can be inhaled. Safety assessments of sunscreen ingredients have focused exclusively on lotions. Spray sunscreens, which contain active ingredients that have been found to cause skin sensitization and hormone disruption, have not been studied. Nor is it clear that fast-drying spray formulations are effective; they may dry up before users can spread them around the skin for full coverage.

The FDA has taken an important step in the right direction. Yet consumers deserve a more complete set of regulations that ensure the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens.

You can track the FDA's progress in rolling out the regulations on its own website or here on Enviroblog. While you're at it, take a look at EWG's sunscreen database to see how the sunscreen you use measures up.


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