On beaches from Ocean City to Venice this summer, and everywhere in between, kids will apply sunscreen to protect themselves from harmful ultraviolet rays. But some of the ingredients in the best sunscreens aren’t available on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, because they’re classified as drugs, not as cosmetics.
The weekly newsmagazine Chemical & Engineering News reports that although many sunscreens available over-the-counter or on retail shelves in the US protect users from ultraviolet rays, the US Food and Drug Administration still hasn’t approved the use of eight chemicals that filter UV rays in more advanced ways and would give US sunscreen makers additional flexibility.
Ultraviolet rays cause sunburn, contribute to wrinkling of the skin, and increase rates of cancer. UV-B rays from the sun, with wavelengths between 290 and 320 nanometers, are the main cause of the increased risk posed to sunbathers.
Frequencies of electromagnetic waves (source: Georgia State University Hyperphysics)
To find wavelength, use frequency × the speed of light; higher quantum energy is to the right.
These eight chemicals, some of which have been up for approval in the US since 2002 and others for which approval has never been sought, are available in Europe and not in the US mainly because the US classifies sunscreen as a drug with active ingredients while countries in the European Union classify it as a cosmetic. Manufacturers in Europe, therefore, can get new and improved products on the shelf after much less testing than required of their US counterparts.
As drugs in the US, the active ingredients in sunscreen are subject to the same rigorous approval process as over-the-counter cold medicines. It can be hard to convince the FDA that chemicals are safe and effective, even though the benefits of using sunscreen have been documented everywhere from fashion magazines to scientific journals to the halls of Congress.
Pending approval in the US
- Amiloxate (UV-B protection)
- Bemotrizinol (UV-A and UV-B protection)
- Bisoctrizole (UV-A and UV-B protection)
- Drometrizole trisiloxane (UV-A and UV-B protection)
- Ecamsulea (UV-A protection)
- Enzacamene (UV-B protection)
- Iscotrizinol (UV-B protection)
- Octyl triazone (UV-B protection)
Approval in the US not applied for
- Bisdisulizole disodium (UV-A and UV-B protection)
- Diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate (UV-A protection)
- Polysilicone 15 (UV-B protection)
- Tris-biphenyl triazine (UV-B protection)