Other countries have better sunscreens. Here’s why we can’t get them in the U.S.

When dermatologist Adewole “Ade” Adamson sees people spritzing sunscreen as if it’s cologne at the pool where he lives in Austin, Texas, he wants to intervene. “My wife says I shouldn’t,” he said, “even though most people rarely use enough sunscreen.”

At issue is not just whether people are using enough sunscreen, but what ingredients are in it.

In countries such as Japan, South Korea, and France, sunscreens include newer chemical filters, some of which have been shown to provide broader protection against UV rays than those used in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration’s ability to approve such ingredients is hamstrung by a 1938 U.S. law that has required sunscreens to be tested on animals and classified as drugs, rather than as cosmetics as they are in much of the world.

So Americans are not likely to get those other sunscreens — which do a better job of blocking UVA rays that can cause skin cancer and lead to wrinkles — in time for this summer, or even the next.

Sunscreen makers say the U.S. approval standards are unfair because companies, including BASF Corp. and L’Oréal which make the newer sunscreen chemicals, submitted safety data on sunscreen chemicals to the European Union authorities some 20 years ago.

Picking the ‘right’ sunscreen isn’t as important as avoiding these 6 mistakes
Picking the ‘right’ sunscreen isn’t as important as avoiding these 6 mistakes
Steven Goldberg, a retired vice president of BASF, said companies are wary of the FDA process because of the cost and their fear that additional animal testing could ignite a consumer backlash in the European Union, which bans animal testing of cosmetics, including sunscreen.

The companies are asking Congress to change the testing requirements before they take steps to enter the U.S. marketplace.

In a rare example of bipartisanship last summer, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, thanked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., for urging the FDA to speed up approvals of new, more effective sunscreen ingredients. Now a bipartisan bill is pending in the House that would require the FDA to allow non-animal testing.

“It goes back to sunscreens being classified as over-the-counter drugs,” said Carl D’Ruiz, a senior manager at DSM-Firmenich, a Switzerland-based maker of sunscreen chemicals. “It’s really about giving the U.S. consumer something that the rest of the world has. People aren’t dying from using sunscreen. They’re dying from melanoma.”

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Every hour, at least two people die of skin cancer in the United States. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in America, and 6.1 million adults are treated each year for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nation’s second-most-common cancer, breast cancer, is diagnosed about 300,000 times annually, though it is far more deadly.

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