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Critics Want FDA to OK New Sunscreen Ingredients

Are New Filters Needed? continued...

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.

Americans’ sunscreen choices improved as a result of recent steps taken by the FDA, says Lim, who has served as a consultant to L'Oreal, Pierre Fabre and Uriage. Last summer was the first that all products labeled “broad spectrum” had to prove to the FDA that they protected against ultraviolet B radiation, the main cause of sunburn, as well as ultraviolet A, which can cause sunburn, skin cancer, and premature skin aging.

Also, products that don’t offer broad spectrum protection or have an SPF below 15 have to carry a warning on their label that says they only prevent sunburn, not skin cancer and premature aging. The FDA also has proposed a rule that would set “50+” as the highest SPF value that sunscreen manufacturers could put on their labels, since there's not enough data to show that anything above 50 provides greater protection.

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