A new law may help promote safer sunscreen ingredients. Action Alert!
A new study by the National Institutes of Health found that sunscreen chemicals that filter out ultraviolet rays may impair male fertility. There are twenty-nine “benzophenone-type UV filtering chemicals” in personal care products that protect skin and hair from sun damage. Researchers found that men with high exposure to two chemicals in particular had a 30% reduction in their ability to reproduce. Earlier research findings linked reduced fertility to high concentrations of phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) in men, chemicals that we also pick up from sources such as can linings, dental treatments, and cash register receipts.
The skin is the body’s largest organ, and how we care for our skin is extremely important. Unfortunately, the FDA’s procedure for reviewing sunscreen ingredients is incredibly sloppy—and way too slow.
The FDA classifies sunscreen as drugs, and all sunscreen products technically require preapproval before being allowed on the market. However, to avoid the lengthy and expensive new drug approval process, sunscreen ingredients are governed by monograph (a written standard for active ingredients). If a monograph has been issued for a product, all a company has to do is show that it has met the standards of that monograph to be allowed on the market. It took thirty years for the FDA to approve several final monographs for sunscreen ingredients, but they finally did so in 1999.
Even then they did a bad job. Among the list of approved monographs is one for oxybenzone, which breaks down to 4-OH-BP, one of the two chemicals that cause infertility.
If there is a new and potentially safer sunscreen ingredient, a manufacturer’s viable alternative is the Time and Extent Application. TEAs are meant to allow companies to bring technically new ingredients to the US consumer market, based on their use in other countries. The FDA then is supposed to review the ingredient to see whether it can be Generally Regarded as Safe and Effective (GRASE) for use in sunscreen.
The FDA stated that they would “strive to complete TEA evaluations in 90-180 days”—yet the agency has not approved a TEA for any sunscreen active ingredient since 2002. Only recently did FDA issue a first determination that GRASE status would not be established for two ingredients.
To address this huge delay in sunscreen ingredient review, Congress recently passed the Sunscreen Innovation Act. It will set timelines for FDA review of sunscreen ingredients and, we hope, will give a big boost to innovation and safety. As the Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes:
Companies that make sunscreens in the United States currently have limited options for formulating their products, and most of them provide inadequate protection from UVA rays. [The FDA] has failed to review and approve promising sunscreen ingredients that have been sold for years in Europe, Australia and other countries.
EWG has a guide to the best sunscreens currently available. Dr. Mercola recommends choosing a sunscreen that contains zinc or titanium materials, and has recommendations for other skin-nourishing, safe sunscreens.
Let’s also keep in mind that the human body needs sunlight. Too little sun, whether from being indoors or from using sunscreen or from living in a northern latitude, especially in the winter, is associated with more cancer, not less—especially the deadly cancers, both on the skin and elsewhere. This is probably because it leads to inadequate vitamin D, but there may be many other factors involved that we don’t yet understand. Once you’ve gotten your daily dose of vitamin D from the sun, during times when the sun is powerful enough to make D, especially from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in summer, it may be best to avoid sunscreens altogether and wear long sleeves and a hat!
Action Alert! Tell the FDA to remove the monograph for oxybenzone. It’s a dangerous chemical and should immediately be banned from sunscreens. They should also speed up their review of proposed new ingredients. All the delay makes consumers less safe, not more. Send your message today!