The U.S. may finally catch up to other countries in sunscreen technology.
The ingredients that make their sunscreen superior have been awaiting approval—or any sort of decision—from the Food and Drug Administration for at least 12 years, with the last over-the-counter sunscreen ingredient approved by the agency in the 1990s. There are currently eight such ingredients stuck in the system.
Meanwhile, these technologies have been available in Europe, Asia, and Central and South America, sometimes for more than 15 years. As a result of the backlog, American consumers have been unable to buy the sunscreens that provide the most effective protections against harmful rays.
But the 12-year backlog may soon come to an end. The House Energy and Commerce's Health Subcommittee advanced legislation Tuesday to expedite the FDA's approval process for sunscreen ingredients. The Sunscreen Innovation Act passed by a voice vote Tuesday, bringing the legislation one step closer to passage.
Supporters of the bill expect it to pass the House before August recess, and to be taken up by the Senate in the near future.
The legislation aims to improve on the federal government's latest attempt to make itself more nimble in keeping up with sunblock technology—a 2002 procedural change from the FDA that the agency hoped would speed up its approval process.
But without a single ingredient being approved since then, advocates say it's time to try again.
At stake is more than sunburns: Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 2 million cases are diagnosed each year, many of which could be prevented by protecting the skin from sun exposure, according to the American Cancer Society.
Under current law, if an ingredient is on the market in another country for five years, it may go through a process to be determined eligible by the FDA. An advisory committee of experts then weighs in on the safety and effectiveness of the product, and the agency makes the final determination as to whether it is approved.
The Sunscreen Innovation Act would institute a timeline for review, and would no longer require the FDA to issue a regulation every time it wants to approve an ingredient. The bill requires final decisions on pending applications within one year, and decisions on new applications within one and a half.
An FDA spokesman has said the agency has "prioritized reviewing the safety and effectiveness of additional sunscreen ingredients as quickly as possible given the agency's resources."
The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and John Dingell, D-Mich., in the House and Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., in the Senate.
"This [legislation] will allow Americans access to the best products on the market and also spur innovation in an area of significant public health importance," said Whitfield. "With skin cancer being by far the most common form of this terrible disease, it's important that consumers have access to the latest breakthroughs in sunscreen technology."
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This article appears in the July 16, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.