Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez critiques US sunscreen regulations

By Julia Wray | Published: 15-Aug-2023

The American politician took to social media to highlight why sunscreens in the US are ‘far behind’ the rest of the world

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the politician and activist, is asking US voters to push for better sunscreens. 

In a video shared across social media platforms, Ocasio-Cortez and Charlotte Palermino, an aesthetician and founder of Dieux Skincare, explained why they believe the country is lagging behind when it comes to sun protection. 

“US sunscreens are far behind the rest of the world,” commented Ocasio-Cortez in the video. 

“I was in South Korea earlier this year and it is so clear how advanced the rest of the world is on sunscreens – and we deserve better here in the US.”

In the US, sunscreens are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the New York Congresswoman raised the FDA’s categorisation of such products as non-prescription drugs as the reason for sluggish innovation in this area. 

The FDA has a list of 16 approved active ingredients for use in sunscreens, while the European Union, which classifies sunscreen as a cosmetic product, has 48 allowed UV filters.

“The FDA is different to the rest of the world in that we regulate sunscreen as a drug rather than a cosmetic. 

“It is regulated as a drug, has far more stringent standards, far more testing [and] far more clinical trials which are required, which is good, we want to make sure that things are safe. 

“However, sometimes that can add a lot of bureaucracy and costs that prevent us from getting any sunscreen filters at all.”

The video highlighted that 1999 was the last time the US had a new sunscreen filter. 

Ocasio-Cortez encouraged US voters to raise awareness among Congress to help “break through some of the regulatory barriers at the FDA”.

“Congress has not been very aware of this issue, which is why there has not been a lot of momentum behind this issue,” she explained.

“Please contact your member of Congress, especially if your member of Congress sits on the energy and commerce committee [Committee on Energy and Commerce]. 

“They have jurisdiction over the FDA; however, any member of Congress can draw attention to this issue.”

What regulatory changes have been made?

Recent years have seen some movement in US sunscreen regulation, albeit at a slow rate.

In 2019, the FDA issued a proposed rule on sunscreens, which proposed to revise the requirements for sunscreen active ingredients; maximum SPF levels; broad spectrum requirements; and dosage forms, among other things. 

The proposed rule also included updates on how sunscreens are labelled. 

In 2014, former President Barack Obama signed the Sunscreen Innovation Act, giving the FDA five years to approve or deny the use of new sunscreen ingredients, so they wouldn’t stay in the review process for an inordinate period of time. 

Five years later, the FDA reaffirmed that two sunscreen ingredients – titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – were safe but asked for more information about 12 other ingredients manufacturers were using in sunscreens. 

In 2021, the FDA said it needed more time to determine if 12 of the 16 UV filters used in sunscreens were considered safe and effective.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), meanwhile, was signed into law in March 2020 in the US.

It amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C Act) to replace the monograph rulemaking process with an administrative order process for issuing, revising and amending OTC monographs, including the 1999 final monograph regulation for OTC sunscreen products.

In September 2021, the FDA posted its deemed final order for sunscreens, which sets the current requirements for marketing OTC sunscreen products. 

It also posted a proposed order for sunscreens to amend and revise this deemed final order.

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