Sunscreen: Better in Europe?

Public health advocates are cheering congressional efforts to speed up the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval process of new sunscreen ingredients that they say could prevent skin cancer and save lives.

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The Sunscreen Innovation Act, a bipartisan bill introduced last week in both the House and Senate, would provide a "predictable and reasonable timeframe" for the review of the sunscreen products, some of which have waited more than a decade for approval, lawmakers say.

Health experts say people should have access to the most recent sunscreen advancements so that they can protect themselves from melanoma. 

"Melanoma must be prevented wherever possible," said Wendy Selig, president and CEO of the Melanoma Research Alliance, during a press call Thursday. 

"Unlike other deadly cancers, we do have the ability, in many cases, to reduce the risk, prevent melanoma, and save people before this cancer spreads," she added.

Skin cancer has become the most common form of cancer in the United States, with 3.5 million new cases diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

But lawmakers believe advancements in sunscreen technology could help prevent many cases of skin cancer — if they ever make it to market.

Disappointed with what they see as the FDA's lethargic review process, Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) are pushing legislation that would force the agency to make quicker decisions on applications for new sunscreen products.

The Sunscreen Innovation Act would require the FDA to make a decision on new sunscreen applications within 11 months and existing applications within 8 months, but would not change other aspects of the approval process, the lawmakers say.

"It's important for people to protect themselves from the sun and Americans shouldn't have to wait decades for access to the most advanced, effective sunscreens," Reed said in a statement.

Isakson said the sunscreen legislation hits close to home.

"As a melanoma survivor, I believe it's essential that Americans have access to safe and effective sunscreen," Isakson said.

"Too often, technological advancements that have the ability to improve the quality of healthcare and prevent disease are held back by an overly rigid regulatory process," he added.

Jackie King, a 22-year-old who has melanoma and is advocating for FDA approval of advanced sunscreens, said she is pleased to see lawmakers doing something about it.

"I know of a lot of women my age that have gone through this because of tanning beds and being out in the sun," King said during the press call.

She said the FDA's approval process was "just crazy."

"So few of us actually catch it in time, so if you're able to prevent it, then by all means, please prevent it," she said.

The lawmakers point out that many sunscreen products have been held up in years of FDA review, even though they have been safely used in Europe, Canada and other countries during that time.

"Some of these sunscreen ingredients have been safely used overseas for years, but have had their applications pending before the FDA for a decade or more," they wrote.

But some companies have been scared away from applying to sell advance sunscreen products in the U.S. because of the FDA's approval process, said Michael Werner, spokesman for the Public Access to SunScreens coalition.

"Manufacturers are skeptical that the FDA will review their applications in a timely way," Werner said during the call.