Back when I was a kid, going out in the sun without sunscreen (suntan lotion as we called it then) was common, even among the fairest of them all. We know better now; the UV rays that turn white folks pink or red before going brown may well be bringing you melanoma later in life. This summer, I plan on taking my pasty self to the beach frequently, and when I do, I plan on using imported sunscreen rather than the domestic stuff. It’s not that I am a snob (well, I am a snob, but that isn’t the reason). The reason is that the FDA is so far behind in reviewing new ways of skin protection that American sunscreen is technologically inferior to European formulations.
Brady Dennis over at The Washington Post reported not too long ago that the FDA hasn’t expanded its list of sunscreen ingredients since 1999. If you think flip phones and Windows 98 are acceptable technology today, then by all means, slather on the Yankee sunscreen. I happen to believe that science and engineering tend to make things better as time goes by.
It isn’t that there aren’t new formulations out there. The FDA has no fewer than eight applications in front of it for new sunscreen ingredients. Some applications were made in 2003, back when America was just getting into Iraq militarily. Those very same ingredients are available in Europe, Asia and South America right this minute.
Wendy Selig, president of the Melanoma Research Alliance, the largest private funder of melanoma research, stated, “We have a system here that’s completely broken down, and everybody knows that it has broken down.”
Darrell S. Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at NYU, said of the foreign brands, “These sunscreens are being used by tens of millions of people every weekend in Europe, and we’re not seeing anything bad happening. It’s sort of crazy … We’re depriving ourselves of something the rest of the world has.”
For its part, the FDA says that Americans have “access to a great number of sunscreen products,” but the agency “is proceeding as quickly as practicable given available review resources and competing public health responsibilities.”
Now, I happen to be a firm believer in the regulation of food and drugs, so I tend to back the FDA as a matter of principle. I think food should be safe and drugs should be effective, and it is the FDA that makes sure of that.
However, in their zeal to reduce red tape and give businesses more leeway, the right in America has opted to cut funding for the FDA and other such bodies. Reread the FDA statement, “given available review resources and public health responsibilities.” That decodes to mean “we haven’t got the manpower nor the budget to get this done quickly.” Consequently, the pro-business factions in Congress have created a situation in the name of business that is actually holding business back.
There is a simple solution, and that is to spend more on the FDA and let it get to work. That isn’t going to happen anytime soon. So, if anyone is going abroad in the next couple of weeks, I need you to bring me back some SPF30 sunscreen — half a dozen bottles should do.