A Health Agency Wants the FDA to Investigate This Common Beauty Product

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a been a staunch proponent of practicing sun safety for a few years now. In a nutshell, when it comes to sunscreen, the nonprofit organization thinks Americans are still a bit in the dark about how important it really is—plus, they think a lot of manufacturers have misleading claims when it comes to the kind of protection our skin is actually receiving from products.

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Today, they sent a pretty detailed letter to FDA commissioner Robert Califf on “the urgent need for greater oversight of SPF claims, including manufacturers’ testing methodology and use of inactive sunscreen ingredients.” We got a look at the letter, and here are some important points that may make you think twice about how we, as consumers, look at SPF:

“We respectfully submit this letter on behalf of the Environmental Working Group to express concerns about sunscreen ingredients that may enable manufacturers to advertise higher SPF values for their over-the-counter sunscreen products without offering users truly enhanced protection from UVA and UVB rays. We ask that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigate whether ingredients and other technologies are being used to boost SPF claims by masking the skin reddening that is the body’s warning sign of sun damage. Such products may encourage people to remain in the sun, where, though they don’t see or sense burning, they may in fact sustain subtle or profound damage to the skin, potentially leading to cancer.

Sunscreens are a valuable tool used to protect the public from damaging exposures to ultraviolet radiation. EWG appreciates FDA’s continued efforts to establish a comprehensive set of regulations guiding the safety and efficacy of sunscreens. However, EWG is concerned that the agency’s current rules have not kept pace with the formulation and marketing trends we have observed after a decade of assessing these products, to the potential detriment of public health.

Specifically, we believe that FDA should urgently investigate a critical question: whether sunscreens contain ingredients that boost SPF values without necessarily improving health benefits for consumers. Today, the majority of the sunscreen products listed in EWG’s annual Guide to Sunscreens contain ingredients with anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties. The current testing methodology prescribed by FDA does not address the increasing use of anti-inflammatories, antioxidants and other ingredients that may boost SPF readings and mask reddening, the body’s early warning system that it is experiencing sun damage. Current testing requirements also have enabled the proliferation of high SPF claims that often cannot be verified.”

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The letter then calls on FDA to take the following actions:

1. Investigate the use of anti-inflammatories, antioxidants and other ingredients in sunscreen products, which may increase SPF measurements without shielding the body from UV light; as well as the correlation, if any, between protection from skin reddening, immunosuppression, long-term skin damage and cancer.

2. Finalize its proposed 2011 rule that would cap SPF values at 50+.

3. Require companies to display the lower value obtained from measuring the sun protection factor in vitro and in vivo when determining the SPF of products.

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