What the Sunscreen Innovation Act Means For You

Jager Weatherby on 11 Dec 2014 at 5:00pm

Sunscreen Innovation Act

When it comes to the development of sunscreen, Asia, Europe, and Latin America have been leaving the U.S. in the dust. While consumers in these countries currently have close to 30 active ingredients available in their products, American buyers have access to just 16. This discrepancy has been a focal point for lawmakers, who’ve blamed the Food and Drug Administration for its inefficiency with approvals. In fact, there have been eight ingredients submitted to the FDA since 2002 that have yet to go under review.

With skin cancer becoming the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States — 1 in 5 Americans are expected to develop it in their lifetime — it comes as no surprise that members of Congress have been hard at work to implement a bill that would speed up the regulatory process on these ingredients.

As the House Appropriations Committee wrote back in May, “Immediate action on sunscreens should be a priority. The need for sunscreens is evidenced by the nearly one million people who are currently living with skin cancer, and the fact that melanoma is the fifth leading cause of cancer in the U.S. this year.”

RELATED: What Are the Signs of Skin Cancer?

The Committee has turned words into actions, working to push through the Sunscreen Innovation Act, which President Obama enacted into law on November 26, 2014. The decision requires the FDA to make rulings on new ingredients within a year, with some of the backlogged ingredients expected to be reviewed in as little as six months.

While this might seem like a huge step forward in the prevention of skin cancer, the bill will have little to no effect if consumers don’t actively make smarter choices about their own sun protection. Despite the sobering number of people living with the disease, few of us seem to be taking the proper precautions. As a RealSelf survey revealed back in June, 78% of U.S. women ages 18-24 “never” wear sunscreen or only wear it “while at the beach.” It’s a scary statistic given that 90% of skin cancer is caused by exposure to the sun. What’s worse is the fact that damage doesn’t just occur on bright, sunny days. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can pass directly through the clouds.

MORE: RealSelf Survey Data: Millennial Women Don’t Care About Anti-Aging

“I like that the government is taking a role in sunscreen and sun protection,” says Seattle-based dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Reichel. However, “sunscreen will still be sunscreen, which should be used as part of the daily skincare routine. This bill won’t really affect consumers as long as they continue to choose their products wisely. Continue to put on your lotion and makeup with SPF in them. And remember that kids need something different than adults.”

With so much conflicting information out there, what Dr. Reichel hopes this bill will do is inform consumers on how to use their sunscreen properly. “Don’t always go with the hype,” she explains. “[Hopefully this bill will] push down the idea about the ‘massive’ SPF being better. You need a 25-30 SPF when actively in the sun. Reapply every two hours and choose something that fits with your skin type.”

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Should the government decide to take further steps toward skin cancer prevention, Dr. Reichel recommends that states work to push through legislation to ban the use of tanning beds by minors. According to the SCF, indoor tanners are 74% more likely to develop melanoma, and the risk is only higher the younger you are. As the National Conference of State Legislatures points out, “High risk exposure happens more commonly in teens, and overexposure during childhood greatly increases the chance of developing skin cancer later in life.” So far, 41 states have put regulations on the use of tanning facilities by people under 18, but only 10 of them have banned it altogether.

In the end, overexposure to UV rays simply isn’t worth it, and no amount of government will make a difference if consumers refuse to change their habits. In other words: It’s time to start following the rules of sunscreen and stepping away from that tanning salon.

Here are some helpful videos to get you started on smart suncare:
Why You Should Wear Sunscreen Every Single Day
Your Skin Wants You to Use More Sunscreen
Vitamin D Myths: Busting Common Suncare Misconceptions

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Joe Shlabotnik