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Critics Want FDA to OK New Sunscreen Ingredients

Are New Filters Needed?

Meanwhile, what can Americans do to protect themselves against skin cancer? For one, Rigel says, don’t order unapproved sunscreens online. Web sites might look like they’re based in Canada, he says, but you could end up getting packages postmarked Nepal or Pakistan, raising questions about what you’re really getting.

And even if you live near the border, says Henry Lim, MD, “there is no need to go to Canada or other parts of the world to obtain sunscreen. In the U.S. now, we do have very good sunscreen.” Lim is chair of dermatology at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital and a charter member of the PASS Coalition.

Whether Americans will buy products with new sun filters remains to be seen. Mona Gohara, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale, says her patients are overwhelmed with the choices already on the market.

Sixteen sun filters already are approved by the FDA. “The majority of people are walking into Walmart and thinking, ‘What’s going to work?’” Gohara says.

Plus, she says, many of her patients are reluctant to slather on chemicals to protect themselves against the sun, even though speculation that some sunscreens might actually raise the risk of cancer has never been proven. Instead, they prefer sunscreens that physically block UV rays -- namely the minerals titanium oxide or zinc oxide, the reason lifeguard’s noses used to look white and chalky. Today, nanotechnology has enabled manufacturers to shrink the size of titanium oxide and zinc oxide molecules for use in makeup and moisturizers that get rid of the ghostly look of old, Gohara says.

“The range of sunscreens is so diverse right now,” she says. “What we have here [in the U.S.] is perfectly efficient to protect people against cancer, regardless of their lifestyle.”

Still want to bring sunscreen home from abroad? While importing unapproved drugs -- including sunscreens with unapproved sun filters -- violates the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA’s web site says the agency is likely to look the other way -- if you import no more than a 3-month supply of a drug that’s not considered to represent an unreasonable risk.

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