Schumer pushes FDA to hurry up on sunscreen testing

With an expected 2 million Americans to be diagnosed with skin cancer this year alone, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer recently called on the Food and Drug Administration to expedite their testing of ultra-effective sunscreen that better protects from sunburn and skin cancer.

Melanoma diagnoses have risen about 2 percent per year since 2000, even as sunscreen sales skyrocket. According to a 2012 report by the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Cancer Registry, an average of 35 cases of melanoma occur every year in Chautauqua County. That number is 17.8 for Cattaraugus County and 212.6 for Erie County. Data for the report was collected from 2005 to 2009.

Meanwhile, the FDA has been reviewing critical new sunscreen ingredients for over a decade, and the superior sunscreens are available in almost every other country in the world. Schumer wrote to the commissioner of the FDA to push them for a final decision before the summer. He also pushed the FDA to further study the protective qualities of aerosol-based sunscreens, which have been increasing in popularity but may not provide as much protection as traditional sunscreen. Researchers have suggested that some sunscreens with higher SPFs don’t necessarily protect from harmful UVA and UVB rays more than lower SPFs in the way their labeling suggests. The FDA has agreed to study and test sunscreens with SPFs over 50, as well as aerosols, but has delayed action. Schumer is seeking answers for the delay, which leaves upstate New York beachgoers, anglers, boaters and others vulnerable.

Schumer noted that from 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men. Of the seven most common cancers in the US, melanoma is the only one whose incidence is increasing. Between 2000 and 2009, incidence climbed 1.9 percent annually. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.

Schumer asked the FDA to expedite their review and approval of new ingredients in sunscreen that could potentially increase their protective capability. These ingredients improve the efficacy of sunscreen by blocking a broader range of the sun’s rays. The products sold in the U.S. are particularly hampered by the lack of so-called “long-range UVA filters” which block a broader range of the UVA rays that cause cancer, and for a longer time.

In the U.S., the main products used to block UVA rays are called benzophenones, and they work by absorbing the sun’s rays. But these chemicals can cause problems, such as allergic reactions, and studies have found that it is absorbed and detected in the blood stream, possibly affecting some hormone levels. It also absorbs only a shorter form of UVA rays. They also breakdown quickly and reduce the efficacy of some of the chemicals that block UVB rays. Both types of rays, UVA and UVB, are known to cause skin cancer.

Schumer said the FDA plays an integral role in determining the safety of the chemicals sold in products in the United States and should continue its strong oversight. However, products containing these chemicals have been sold overseas for more than two decades. Specifically, applications for eight different ingredients have been filed through what is known as the “time and extent application” (TEA). This process allows products that have been sold overseas for at least five years and have been shown to be safe, to be sold in the U.S. These applications have been pending with the FDA for years, some for over a decade.

Schumer also expressed some concerns about the transparency of the labels on the sunscreens. He noted that consumers want the peace of mind to know that the sunscreens available for purchase meet all the FDA’s enforceable standards and offer the strongest possible protection.

The FDA first looked into the deceptive practices of sunscreen products over thirty years ago, but since that time, the rate of melanoma has doubled in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, over two million individuals will be informed that they have a form of skin cancer in this year alone. Schumer has been pushing the FDA to tighten its standards on labeling for years, helping to get new standards in place in 2011. Now, Schumer is joining his colleagues to urge the FDA to turn its focus to high SPF content sunscreens and aerosols, which may be inaccurately representing their protective qualities.

Aerosol-based sunscreen sprays have increased in popularity, but it remains untested if they protect from harmful rays as much as traditional sunscreens. Furthermore, researchers have found in some cases that a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 protected users from 97 percent of UVA/UVB rays and a sunscreen with an SPF of 100 protected users from 99 percent of rays. The difference in protection was not indicative of the difference in SPF content, or more significantly, the difference in price. Schumer noted that improving consumer information should always be the focus, and in the case of sunscreen, standard SPF counts are not the final word.

Schumer also asked the FDA to expedite their review and approval of new ingredients in sunscreen that could potentially increase their protective capability. He noted that consumers want the peace of mind to know that the sunscreens available for purchase meet all the FDA’s enforceable standards and offer the strongest possible protection.