June 06, 2011

Schumer, Gillibrand: Sunscreen Labels Promise Protection But Actually Put Sunlovers at Risk For Cancer Due to Lack Of Accurate Labeling; Join Colleagues to Introduce “SUN” Act That Would Require Clear Labeling To Protect Sunscreen Users

Researchers Find Many Sunscreen Labels Promise Protection from the Sun But Instead Leave Beachgoers Vulnerable to Skin Cancer; This Year Alone, One Million Americans Will Be Diagnosed With The Disease FDA Has Not Issued New Rules in 30 Years, Leaving Consumers in the Dark About Safe, Effective Sunscreens; Schumer & Gillibrand Introduce Legislation Giving FDA 180 Days to Finally Issue Comprehensive Regulations Senators: It’s Time to Get Serious About Sunscreen Safety

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand today announced a new effort to put pressure on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to finally issue comprehensive regulations for the sunscreen industry, regarding formulation, labeling and testing requirements for over-the-counter sunscreen products, to protect consumers from dangerous ingredients and inaccurate labels. As the summer months approach, and one million more Americans are expected to be diagnosed with skin cancer this year alone, Schumer and Gillibrand said that the FDA has been dragging its feet to issue rules that would require sunscreen companies to provide clear and accurate sunscreen labels. Today, the senators announced that they are introducing legislation, along with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), that would give the FDA 180 days to finalize its regulations – originally proposed in 2007, and supposed to be finalized by October 2010 – or have its already proposed rules go into effect. Schumer and Gillibrand joined colleagues in sending a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jacob Lew urging them to finalize the FDA’s proposed comprehensive standards for sunscreen products.

“As New Yorkers hit the beach this summer, they rely on sunscreens to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays. But sadly, far too often, sunlovers are being mislead by inaccurate sunscreen labels that promise protection but really leave them at risk of skin cancer,” said Senator Schumer. “On top of that, we’ve known for far too long that the industry badly needed an overhaul of its safety regulations, which haven’t been updated in three decades, but the FDA has been dragging its heels to make the needed reforms. That’s why I’m launching a new push to finally require the FDA to step up to the plate and require clear, accurate labeling on sunscreen bottles and testing of sunscreen ingredients to help Americans protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays.”

“As the summer season begins, New Yorkers deserve clear information on which sunscreen products are safe and effective so that they can guard themselves and their families against skin cancer,” said Senator Gillibrand. “FDA’s decades-long delay only puts more New Yorkers’ health at-risk and allows manufacturers to get away with misleading claims. Adequate sunscreen labeling and testing are long overdue and must be immediately put in place.”

The FDA first considered establishing safety, effectiveness and labeling requirements for sunscreen products over 30 years ago.  Since then, the rate of melanoma in this country has doubled.  This year, 1 million individuals will be informed that they have a preventable form of skin cancer.  Millions of Americans purchase and use over-the-counter sunscreen products and assume the products are safe and they are protected from harmful UVA and UVB rays.  But the current protection that they are afforded by these products could be misleading or the products could contain harmful ingredients.

Researchers have found significant variability in the numbers, words, ratings, colors, and symbols that sunscreen products and products containing sun protection use to make consumers believe that they are being protected from the sun.  For example, one product with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 was found to protect against 98 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, while a product labeled with a SPF of 100 may protect against 99 percent of the sun’s rays.  The larger the SPF number doesn’t always result in significantly better protection.  Additionally, there is currently no confirmed method of determining if a product protects against UVA rays, and claims that a product is “waterproof” or provides “all day protection” from the sun are unsubstantiated.  In the face of this overwhelming evidence, in 2007 the FDA proposed comprehensive standards for sunscreen products and products claiming to contain sun protection in Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use; Proposed Amendment of Final Monograph (72 Fed. Reg. 49070). 

Despite proposing these new rules nearly four years ago, the FDA has yet to actually finalize them, leaving the industry dangerously unregulated. In the past, when Congress inquired about the status of the final regulation, the FDA said that the written comments that the agency received to the proposed rule delayed its finalization, but that it would be released in the fall of 2010. Schumer and Gillibrand said that as that time frame has come and gone, now is the time for action.

Schumer has also been pushing the FDA to act on studies that have suggested a possible link between skin cancer and retinyl palmitate, a common ingredient found in sunscreen. Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin-A found in 41% of U.S sunscreens, including popular brands such as Coppertone, Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic, Neutrogena and Panama Jack.

Today, Schumer and Gillibrand announced that the Sunscreen Labeling Protection Act of 2011 (The SUN Act) would give the FDA 180 days to finalize its proposed rule for comprehensive labeling and testing of sunscreen products. If the FDA fails to finalize its proposed rule by that time, the rule, as proposed, would become effective. Schumer and colleagues also today wrote a letter to the FDA and the OMB urging the agencies to issue these regulations immediately.

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter is below.

 

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.                                      Jacob J. Lew

Commissioner                                                             Director

U.S. Food and Drug Administration                          Office of Management and Budget

5600 Fishers Lane                                                       725 17th Street, NW    

Rockville, MD 20857                                                 Washington, DC 20503

 

Dear Dr. Hamburg and Mr. Lew:

Once again, the summer months are upon us and millions of Americans will be spending time outdoors without adequate protection from the sun.  It has now been nearly four years since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed comprehensive standards for sunscreen products and products claiming to contain sun protection in Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use; Proposed Amendment of Final Monograph (72 Fed. Reg. 49070).  We strongly urge you to finalize this regulation without further delay so that Americans will no longer be deceived into thinking they are truly protected from the sun when that isn’t the case. 

The FDA first looked into the deceptive practices of sunscreen products over 30 years ago.  Since then, the rate of melanoma in this country has doubled.  This year, 1 million individuals will be informed that they have a preventable form of skin cancer. 

We continue to be disappointed that the FDA has not prioritized the implementation of meaningful, enforceable standards for sunscreen products and products containing sun protection that includes standards for both UVA and UVB protection.  Millions of Americans purchase and use over-the-counter sunscreen products and assume they are protected from harmful UVA and UVB rays.  But the current protection that they are afforded by these products could be misleading or worse inaccurate.

Researchers have found significant variability in the numbers, words, ratings, colors, and symbols that sunscreen products  and products containing sun protection use to make consumers believe that they are being protected from the sun.   For example, one product with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 was found to protect against 98 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, while a product labeled with a SPF of 100 may protect against 99 percent of the sun’s rays.  The larger the SPF number doesn’t always result in significantly better protection.  Additionally, there is currently no confirmed method of determining if a product protects against UVA rays, and claims that a product is “waterproof” or provides “all day protection” from the sun are unsubstantiated.  Clearly and accurately labeled sunscreen products, containing comprehensive information that includes UVA and UVB protection would help keep Americans safer from the sun’s harmful rays. 

In the past, when Congress inquired about the status of the final regulation, we were told that the number of written comments that the agency received to the proposed rule delayed its finalization, but that it would be released in the fall of 2010.  That time frame has come and gone, and now we need action. 

As such, we urge you to issue these regulations immediately.  Once again, we look forward to hearing from you about when this proposed rule will be finalized and when consumers will be able to purchase sunscreen products and products containing sun protection with the knowledge that they meet FDA’s enforceable standards.  

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer                             Kirsten Gillibrand
United States Senator                         United States Senator