Senators: It’s Time to Get Serious About Sunscreen Safety

June 6, 2011 Updated Jun 6, 2011 at 1:14 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Senators: It’s Time to Get Serious About Sunscreen Safety

June 6, 2011 Updated Jun 6, 2011 at 1:14 PM EDT

(WKBW release) -- New York Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand on Monday announced a new effort to put pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to issue comprehensive regulations for the sunscreen industry, regarding formulation, labeling and testing requirements for over-the-counter sunscreen products, to protect consumers from dangerous ingredients and inaccurate labels.

The senators announced that they are introducing legislation, along with Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, that would give the FDA 180 days to finalize its regulations – originally proposed in 2007, and supposed to be finalized by October 2010 – or have its already proposed rules go into effect.

Schumer and Gillibrand joined colleagues in sending a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jacob Lew urging them to finalize the FDA’s proposed comprehensive standards for sunscreen products.

“As New Yorkers hit the beach this summer, they rely on sunscreens to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays. But sadly, far too often, sun lovers are being mislead by inaccurate sunscreen labels that promise protection but really leave them at risk of skin cancer,” said Senator Schumer. “On top of that, we’ve known for far too long that the industry badly needed an overhaul of its safety regulations, which haven’t been updated in three decades, but the FDA has been dragging its heels to make the needed reforms. That’s why I’m launching a new push to finally require the FDA to step up to the plate and require clear, accurate labeling on sunscreen bottles and testing of sunscreen ingredients to help Americans protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays.”

“As the summer season begins, New Yorkers deserve clear information on which sunscreen products are safe and effective so that they can guard themselves and their families against skin cancer,” said Senator Gillibrand. “FDA’s decades-long delay only puts more New Yorkers’ health at-risk and allows manufacturers to get away with misleading claims. Adequate sunscreen labeling and testing are long overdue and must be immediately put in place.”

The FDA first considered establishing safety, effectiveness and labeling requirements for sunscreen products over 30 years ago. Since then, the rate of melanoma in the U.S. has doubled. This year, 1 million individuals will be informed that they have a preventable form of skin cancer.

Millions of Americans purchase and use over-the-counter sunscreen products and assume the products are safe and they are protected from harmful UVA and UVB rays. But the current protection that they are afforded by these products could be misleading or the products could contain harmful ingredients.

Researchers have found significant variability in the numbers, words, ratings, colors, and symbols that sunscreen products and products containing sun protection use to make consumers believe that they are being protected from the sun. For example, one product with a Sun Protection Factor of 30 was found to protect against 98 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, while a product labeled with a SPF of 100 may protect against 99 percent of the sun’s rays. The larger the SPF number doesn’t always result in significantly better protection.

Additionally, there is currently no confirmed method of determining if a product protects against UVA rays, and claims that a product is “waterproof” or provides “all day protection” from the sun are unsubstantiated.

In the face of this overwhelming evidence, in 2007 the FDA proposed comprehensive standards for sunscreen products and products claiming to contain sun protection in Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use.

Despite proposing these new rules nearly four years ago, the FDA has yet to actually finalize them. In the past, when Congress inquired about the status of the final regulation, the FDA said that the written comments that the agency received to the proposed rule delayed its finalization, but that it would be released in the fall of 2010. Schumer and Gillibrand said that as that time frame has come and gone, now is the time for action.

Schumer has also been pushing the FDA to act on studies that have suggested a possible link between skin cancer and retinyl palmitate, a common ingredient found in sunscreen. Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin-A found in 41% of U.S sunscreens, including popular brands such as Coppertone, Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic, Neutrogena and Panama Jack.

Schumer and Gillibrand announced that the Sunscreen Labeling Protection Act of 2011 would give the FDA 180 days to finalize its proposed rule for comprehensive labeling and testing of sunscreen products. If the FDA fails to finalize its proposed rule by that time, the rule, as proposed, would become effective. Schumer and colleagues also today wrote a letter to the FDA and the OMB urging the agencies to issue these regulations immediately.

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