It’s Up to the Senate to Save You From Sunburns

A woman applies sun cream on her body on the beach of Scheveningen, on July 21, 2010. About 250 sunbathers on a few square meters were appied sun cream at the same time on their body, to set a new Guiness Book Record. AFP PHOTO / ANP / KOEN SUYK netherlands out - belgium out (Photo credit should read KOEN SUYK/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
July 28, 2014, 2:23 p.m.

This could be the fi­nal sum­mer Amer­ic­ans have to en­dure in­feri­or and out­dated sun­screen.

In the fi­nal week of ses­sion be­fore Con­gress takes its sum­mer va­ca­tion, law­makers have come one step closer to pro­tect­ing Amer­ic­an con­sumers from the sun’s harm­ful rays.

For years, the United States has lagged be­hind oth­er coun­tries in sun­screen tech­no­logy be­cause of back­logs in ap­prov­al of new in­gredi­ents by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion. While new sun­screen tech­no­lo­gies have been avail­able in Europe, Asia, and Cent­ral and South Amer­ica for up to 15 years, they re­main stalled await­ing any kind of de­cision in the U.S. The last time an over-the-counter sun­screen in­gredi­ent was ap­proved by the FDA was in the 1990s; there are eight in­gredi­ents cur­rently stuck in the sys­tem.

But law­makers have fi­nally had enough. The House passed a bill by voice vote Monday even­ing that would ex­ped­ite FDA re­view of new sun­screen in­gredi­ents by im­ple­ment­ing a timeline for re­view, and no longer re­quir­ing the agency to is­sue a reg­u­la­tion every time it wants to ap­prove an in­gredi­ent.

The Sun­screen In­nov­a­tion Act would re­quire fi­nal de­cisions on pending in­gredi­ent ap­plic­a­tions with­in one year, and de­cisions on new ap­plic­a­tions with­in one and a half.

The House vote came too late to help fair-skin­ner beach­go­ers this year, but sup­port­ers are cau­tiously op­tim­ist­ic it will be passed through both cham­bers by the end of the sum­mer.

The Sen­ate plans to take up the bill in Septem­ber.

Skin can­cer is the most com­mon form of can­cer in the U.S., with nearly 5 mil­lion people treated each year, at an an­nu­al cost of $8.1 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment. Most of these cases could be pre­ven­ted with bet­ter skin pro­tec­tion.

The House vote co­in­cides with the re­lease of the sur­geon gen­er­al’s “Call to Ac­tion to Pre­vent Skin Can­cer” on Tues­day, the first re­port of its kind, which will re­com­mend ways for in­di­vidu­als, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, and oth­ers to re­duce skin-can­cer cases and re­lated costs.

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 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.

If the bill be­comes law, most of the pending in­gredi­ent ap­plic­a­tions could be re­viewed with­in the next year.

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