Washington DC - June 5th, 2013 - Today, with an expected 2 million Americans to be diagnosed with skin cancer this year alone, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to expedite their testing of ultra-effective sunscreen that better protects from sunburn and skin cancer. On average, there are 1,760 cases of melanoma in Upstate New York each year, and these numbers are only a fraction of all skin cancer cases, which also commonly include basal cell carcinoma and squamous carcinoma. Melanoma diagnoses have risen about 2% per year since 2000, even as sunscreen sales skyrocket.
Meanwhile, the FDA has been reviewing critical new sunscreen ingredients for over a decade, and the superior sunscreens are available in almost every other country in the world. Schumer wrote to the Commissioner of the FDA to push them for a final decision before the summer. He also pushed the FDA to further study the protective qualities of aerosol-based sunscreens, which have been increasing in popularity but may not provide as much protection as traditional sunscreen. Researchers have suggested that some sunscreens with higher SPFs don’t necessarily protect from harmful UVA and UVB rays more than lower SPFs in the way their labeling suggests. The FDA has agreed to study and test sunscreens with SPFs over 50, as well as aerosols, but has delayed action. Schumer today is seeking answers for the delay, which leaves Upstate New York beachgoers, anglers, boaters and others vulnerable.
“With summer just around the corner, the FDA needs to make sure the best possible sunscreen products are available,” said Schumer. “They’ve been studying many of these chemicals for over a decade, and it’s high time that the FDA finally make a decision so that Americans can use these lifesaving products, or are given a good reason why they can’t.”
Schumer continued: “We can’t leave consumers in the dark when it comes to aerosols or artificially-enhanced high SPF content sunscreens, because the bottom line is—if certain high SPF sunscreens and sprays don’t protect you more from harmful UV rays, consumers need to know that. Hikers, fishers, boaters, swimmers and vacationers deserve the peace of mind to know that the sunscreens on the shelves offer the strongest possible protections.”
Schumer noted that from 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men. Of the seven most common cancers in the US, melanoma is the only one whose incidence is increasing. Between 2000 and 2009, incidence climbed 1.9 percent annually. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.
Schumer asked the FDA to expedite their review and approval of new ingredients in sunscreen that could potentially increase their protective capability. These ingredients improve the efficacy of sunscreen by blocking a broader range of the sun’s rays. The products sold in the U.S. are particularly hampered by the lack of so called “long range UVA filters” which block a broader range of the UVA rays that cause cancer, and for a longer time.
In the U.S., the main products used to block UVA rays are called benzophenones, and they work by absorbing the sun's rays. But these chemicals can cause problems such as allergic reactions and studies have found that it is absorbed and detected in the blood stream possibly affecting some hormone levels. It also only absorbs only a shorter form of UVA rays. They also breakdown quickly and reduce the efficacy of some of the chemicals that block UVB rays. Both types of rays – UVA and UVB – are known to cause skin cancer.
Schumer said the FDA plays an integral role in determining the safety of the chemicals sold in products in the United States and should continue its strong oversight. However, products containing these chemicals have been sold overseas for more than two decades. Specifically, applications for eight different ingredients have been filed through what is known as the “time and extent application” (TEA). This process allows products that have been sold overseas for at least five years and have been shown to be safe, to be sold in the U.S. These applications have been pending with the FDA for years, some for over a decade.
Schumer also expressed some concerns about the transparency of the labels on the sunscreens. He noted that consumers want the peace of mind to know that the sunscreens available for purchase meet all the FDA’s enforceable standards and offer the strongest possible protection.
The FDA first looked into the deceptive practices of sunscreen products over thirty years ago, but since that time, the rate of melanoma has doubled in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, over two million individuals will be informed that they have a form of skin cancer in this year alone. Schumer has been pushing the FDA to tighten its standards on labeling for years, helping to get new standards in place in 2011. Now, Schumer is joining his colleagues to urge the FDA to turn its focus to high SPF content sunscreens and aerosols, which may be inaccurately representing their protective qualities.
Aerosol-based sunscreen sprays have increased in popularity, but it remains untested if they protect from harmful rays as much as tradition sunscreens. Furthermore, researchers have found in some cases that a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 protected users from 97 percent of UVA/UVB rays and a sunscreen with an SPF of 100 protected users from 99 percent of rays. The different in protection was not indicative of the difference in SPF content, or more significantly, the difference in price. Schumer noted that improving consumer information should always be the focus, and in the case of sunscreen, standard SPF counts are not the final word.
Schumer also asked the FDA to expedite their review and approval of new ingredients in sunscreen that could potentially increase their protective capability. Schumer noted that consumers want the peace of mind to know that the sunscreens available for purchase meet all the FDA’s enforceable standards and offer the strongest possible protection.
Schumer broke down the number of average annual cases of diagnosed melanoma (from 2005-2009) in each region, according to the 2012 New York State Department of Health and the New York State Cancer Registry:
- In the Capital Region, there were 240.2 average annual cases of melanoma
- In Central New York, there were 195.2 average annual cases of melanoma
- In the Rochester Finger Lakes Region, there were 240 average annual cases of melanoma
- In the Hudson Valley, there were 461.4 average annual cases of melanoma
- In Western New York, there were 316.8 average annual cases of melanoma
- In the Southern Tier, there were 191.8 average annual cases of melanoma
- In the North Country, there were 114.6 average annual cases of melanoma