Tahlequah Daily Press

Get the scoop!

April 24, 2014

American sunscreens need an upgrade

NEW YORK — The last time a new sunscreen ingredient came on the U.S. market, the Y2K bug was threatening to destroy our way of life. Intel had just introduced the Pentium III processor, featuring an amazing 500 MHz of computing power. The Honda Insight was about to become the first hybrid electric vehicle sold in the United States. Newt Gingrich had just resigned his speakership, and Sasha Obama had not been born. The Oxford English Dictionary accepted the word "bling." Ricky Martin was on top of the charts with "Livin' La Vida Loca," and he was still in the closet. The point is, unlike a lot of things, American sunscreens haven't changed in a long time.

The FDA deserves a huge amount of blame for this problem. Europeans and Canadians enjoy a more diverse and modern set of choices in sunscreen. Some of the ingredients that have been evaluated and approved for use abroad have been stuck in the FDA pipeline for more than a decade. Dermatologists, sunscreen manufacturers and skin cancer foundations have formed the PASS Coalition to prod the agency and Congress to make these ingredients available to Americans.

The FDA hasn't helped itself on the public relations front. In 2002 the agency developed a new process to speed approval of chemicals that have long been on the market abroad, and FDA officials declared their intent to approve or deny applications within 180 days. In early 2009 - that's more than 2,500 days later - it had become achingly clear that the FDA was not making those self-imposed deadlines on sunscreen ingredients. Pressed by the industry to get moving, the agency promised to process most of the long-delayed applications by the end of the year. That was four years ago, and we are still waiting.

In the FDA's defense, U.S. law treats sunscreen as an over-the-counter drug, a category of products that receives heavy scrutiny. Europe views sunscreen as a cosmetics product, and therefore can approve new products with less safety and efficacy data. This put the FDA in an awkward position. When the agency developed the fast-track process more than a decade ago, it may not have realized how much of the safety data normally collected during the drug approval process would be missing for some of the sunscreens already in use abroad.

The manufacturers pushing for approval for new sunscreen ingredients bear a portion of the blame as well. Some of them have failed to furnish basic data to the FDA. For example, the agency typically asks makers of new sunscreen ingredients to show that the chemical doesn't penetrate beyond the skin or have systemic effects. The company seeking approval for amiloxate, one of the ingredients stuck in FDA purgatory, has produced only expert opinion and animal studies on this point. The agency, however, argues that rat skin isn't entirely comparable to human skin and has demanded human studies. (Representatives of these manufacturers claim that the FDA requested this information only recently, many years into the process.)

The FDA's final defense is the same argument that most federal agencies make, with justification: It is understaffed, and it's difficult for a small group of people to analyze the evolving science of skin cancer and toxicology while at the same time issuing a stream of rules and collecting and responding to public comment.

Even if you accept all of these arguments, though, the math just doesn't add up. The FDA created this system itself and promised to fast-track the decisions. It's difficult to fathom how an evaluation and rulemaking process that was designed to take no more than six months could end up consuming more than a decade.

In the meantime, the question for consumers is this: Is it worth going underground to seek out these fancy foreign sunscreens?

It's very difficult to conduct a risk-benefit analysis. The problem with FDA-approved sunscreens is that they are mostly limited to protection against short-wave ultraviolet B rays. That made sense back in the 20th century, when most people thought the more plentiful but less powerful ultraviolet A rays played little or no role in skin cancer. Recent research, however, suggests otherwise. The only U.S. sunscreens that filter UVA well are products like zinc oxide, of lifeguard nose fame, but few people want opaque white creams on their faces.

The filters approved in Europe and Canada are better at blocking UVA. Ecamsule, for example, absorbs light waves best at 344 nanometers, which is squarely in the UVA range. Sunscreens that combine the old filters with the new ones provide broader protection against the sun.

How much safer are you with a broad-spectrum sunscreen? No one knows for sure. Researchers have had a difficult time proving that any sunscreen prevents melanoma. That's because there are so many confounding or unmeasurable factors. The fair-skinned people who are most likely to use sunscreen are also the most likely get skin cancer, which gives the false impression that sunscreen is associated with skin cancer. As with most cancers, cumulative lifetime exposure increases the risk of skin cancer, and it's hard to document accurately how much time someone spent in the sun or how often they used sunscreen as a child. Most experts strongly suspect that sunscreen protects against melanoma, but the data is a work in progress.

I suppose it bears mentioning that buying unapproved sunscreens from foreign retailers online and having them shipped into the United States is technically illegal for both the seller and the buyer - even if products containing proven UVA filters like ecamsule, Tinosorb S, and Tinosorb M are widely available on the Internet.

The question of whether to break the law is especially pressing if you have a family history of skin cancer: People with a first-degree relative who had melanoma have a 50 percent greater chance than others of getting the disease themselves. And they shouldn't have to wait. If the FDA finds that these sunscreen ingredients aren't safe enough, we need to know. And if they are safe, we should be able to buy them. You can't escape the conclusion that the FDA is failing us badly when it comes to sun protection.

     

 

1
Text Only
Get the scoop!
  • Rodden, Danny.jpg Sheriff accused of lying about relationship with prostitute

    The sheriff of Clark County, Ind., faces an eight-count federal indictment that accuses him of lying about paying a prostitute for a sex act and giving her a badge so that she could claim a discount rate at a hotel.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Sideshows involving Rice and Dungy stain NFL's image

    Pro football training camps should be all about, well, football. But the talk around the NFL is about Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's two-game suspension, Tony Dungy's indelicate remarks about Michael Sam and Jim Irsay's largesse. What kind of league is Roger Goodell running?

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 30, 2014

  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 30, 2014

  • 20140727-AMX-GUNS271.jpg Beretta, other gun makers heading to friendlier states

    In moving south and taking 160 jobs with it, Beretta joins several other prominent gunmakers abandoning liberal states that passed tough gun laws after the Newtown shooting.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • HallofFameBraves.jpg Hall of Fame adds businesslike Braves, Frank Thomas, managers La Russa and Torre

    Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and their manager, Bobby Cox, dominated much of baseball during the 1990s. This weekend they went into the Hall of Fame together.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • wd saturday tobias .jpg Stranger’s generosity stuns Ohio veteran

    Vietnam War veteran David A. Tobias was overwhelmed recently when a fellow customer at an OfficeMax store near Ashtabula, Ohio paid for a computer he was purchasing.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 26, 2014

Poll

Do you believe school administrators and college presidents in Oklahoma are paid too much?

Strongly agree.
Somewhat agree.
Somewhat disagree.
Strongly disagree.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA
Stocks