The Environmental Working Group sent a letter to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee Wednesday urging the agency to implement long-talked-about regulations for over-the-counter sunscreens.
The letter comes on the heels of the EWG’s September report, “U.S. Sunscreens Get Flunking Grade for UVA: UVA Protection Too Weak to Stop Subtle Harm,” that stated that a mere one-third of high-SPF sunscreens offer enough protection from both sunburn-causing UVB rays and the more harmful UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and cause cancer. As it stands now, sunscreen manufacturers are under no obligation to state UVA protection factor on labels.
The FDA first acknowledged its need to regulate sunscreen label claims in 1978—and since laid out a strategic labeling program that it planned to implement by October 2010. But as another summer has faded to fall, many retailers, consumers and public-health groups like the EWG are concerned that this has not yet taken effect.
“We haven’t seen any substantial reason for it to take three decades to see these much-needed regulations,” said Leeann Brown, a spokeswoman for the EWG.
Still, the FDA says it remains on track for October. “October is not over yet—it’s still the target,” said Shelly Burgess, an FDA spokewoman.
But what has people worried is an April FDA statement that cited a significant number of public responses to the proposed regulations, all of which must be evaluated before the agency can go forward with the final ruling; therefore, “developing the sunscreen final rule has required more FDA resources than originally anticipated.”
Brown suggested that, until these regulations are passed, retailers should help to inform customers and offer a variety of sun-safe solutions.
“Recommend more traditional sun-protection methods,” she said. “Increase supply of UV-blocking clothing, sunglasses, umbrellas, and sun hats. And stock attractive hats—not ones that look like they were made for the over-80 set.”
When determining which sunscreens to carry, look for products with titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, the strongest and least toxic sun-shielding ingredients available, Brown recommended. Avoid products with oxybenzone and retinyl (vitamin A) palmitate.
“We also encourage retailers to speak up—write letters, call, email the FDA to get through to them that this is important,” Brown said.