If European Sunscreens Are So Great, Why Can’t We Buy Them In The U.S.?

As someone with skin that basically ignites upon contact with the sun’s rays, I’m always looking for a better sunscreen to aid me in my battle against the inevitable sunburn. Recently I heard about a product that was anecdotally called “miraculous,” but couldn’t find it in U.S. stores. I bought it from a British retailer online, and subsequently want to marry it. So if there are such great sunscreens in Europe and elsewhere, how come we can’t get them in the U.S.?

The Wall Street Journal poked around a bit and found that despite such sunscreens’ popularity among consumers on this side of the pond, they won’t be landing over here anytime soon due to certain ingredients that are still waiting for the Food and Drug Administration’s approval.

There are currently eight sunscreen ingredient applications waiting for the FDA to sign off on them, filed under the federal TEA (time and extent application) process. That system allows the FDA to give the okay to ingredients if they’ve been used for at least five years elsewhere and have proved safe and effective.

But some of them have been waiting for approval for up to a decade, so why the delay? An FDA spokeswoman told the WSJ that federal law prevents the agency from disclosing information about applications under review. Basically, it’s kind of unclear what the hold-up is.

What’s the big deal about these sunscreens, anyway, besides anecdotal evidence from those who’ve used it? The ingredients under review by the FDA allow for a longer range of UVA filters, and many dermatologists say they’re a great, effective way to block out the bad stuff in the sun’s rays.

“The U.S. is an island by itself on this one,” said one dermatologist in the know. “They’re available in Canada, available in Europe, available in Asia, available in Mexico, and available in South America.” He added that the lack of ingredients with such long-range UVA filters here “does limit the ability of sunscreen manufacturers to manufacture good, broad-spectrum sunscreens.”

Doctors aren’t handing out free passes to any European sunscreen, however, as some note that there’s just not enough evidence out there to back up claims that the ingredients are safe.

“I know patients bring sunscreens with them from Europe and it’s very hard for us to give recommendations because we really don’t have much data” on such products, a Manhattan dermatologist notes.

In the meantime, there’s this thing called the Internet that can aid you in your search for reasonably priced sunscreens sold abroad — if you don’t mind using a product that the FDA currently doesn’t approve of.

PreviouslyFDA’s New Sunscreen Labeling Rules Go Into Effect But Without A Cap On SPF Ratings 

European Sunscreen Roadblock on U.S. Beaches [Wall Street Journal]