THE REST OF THE WORLD benefits from a variety of sunscreen active ingredients and effectiveness rating systems that are not available in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration has promised to give American consumers more options, but sunscreen ingredient suppliers contend that the agency is dragging its feet.
For instance, three years ago, chemical companies applied to the FDA for permission to sell three new sunscreen active ingredients under expedited review procedures. They are still waiting. Six years ago, the FDA promised manufacturers and formulators that it would advise them on an acceptable measuring system to let consumers know how effectively a sunscreen formulation blocks UV-A rays. The industry still is waiting.
Today, consumers buying sun protection lotions and creams can get some sense of how these products protect them from sunburn-causing UV-B rays by reading the sun protection factor (SPF) rating. However, scientists believe that radiation from the UV-A spectrum is responsible for skin wrinkling and, more important, may contribute to skin cancer.
Until the FDA provides UV-A testing guidelines, manufacturers merely can indicate that their lotions and creams offer UV-A protection. Consumers have no idea of how effective a sunscreen product is in protecting them against the cancer-causing rays of the sun. That would be useful information because most of the more than 1,000,000 nonmelanoma cases of skin cancer annually diagnosed in the U.S. are considered to be sun-related, according to the American Cancer Society.
The FDA says its reviews have taken longer than expected to ensure "that they reflect the current understanding of medicine and science in the field." However, the frustration among sunscreen makers and formulators over the agency's lack of action is palpable. In 1999, the FDA issued a "final" sunscreen monograph--the do's and don'ts of sunscreen labeling and formulation. The agency has not "finalized" the document. Proposed UV-A testing and labeling roles are due later this year, the agency promises.
Personal care industry consultant David Steinberg accuses the FDA of "foot-dragging." He attributes the delays in the UV-A testing protocols and the slow approval of new sunscreen ingredients to a highly politicized atmosphere at the agency. "It's politics, not science, that has gone wrong," Steinberg maintains.
Many professionals in the FDA are as frustrated as those in the industry over the slow pace of approvals, Steinberg claims. Wrangling between Democrats and Republicans concerning FDA leadership, pressure to speed approval of new drugs, and the controversy over approved drugs with serious problems--such as Vioxx and the COX-2 inhibitor class--have made the agency especially cautious.
The l-o-n-g wait
Steinberg, who worked with one of the three companies to submit a new sunscreen application to the FDA, says it "should only take a half-day to get approval." Yet, it has been three years since Symrise, Germany's Merck, and BASF submitted requests to allow use of three ingredients in sunscreen formulations in the...