Ah, Europe. Not only does it get the fancy old castles, the Eurovision competition and Louis Garrel, but now it has the world's best sunscreen, too. Just how good is this white gold? So good that Americans are eschewing U.S. brands like Coppertone (that chubby naked baby couldn't rule forever) and instead having European brands shipped into the country or brought back in with them from their European vacations.
And what makes the European brands so special (other than their cool aloofness, all-black wardrobe and preference for Gauloises cigarettes)? Well, for one thing, they're much better at preventing skin cancer and sun damage.
Sunscreens created abroad are allowed to use eight additional ingredients that, thanks to the FDA, are still under review in the U.S. While it makes sense that the FDA would want to test out products before making them widely available across the country, they're dragging their heels — some of the sunscreen ingredients have been awaiting approval for a whole decade despite being deemed safe and showing no health problems for people in the places where they are widely used.
Henry Lim, chairman of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, tells the Wall Street Journal, "The U.S. is an island by itself on this one. They're available in Canada, available in Europe, available in Asia, available in Mexico, and available in South America."
By limiting sunscreen ingredients, the FDA has also limited our UV protection. While broad spectrum sunscreens have become increasingly available in the U.S., the current legal ingredients only provide three UVA filters (the factor that blocks sun rays from penetrating skin), none of which are terribly long lasting. Ecamsule, Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M are the three most effective ingredients in long lasting UVA protection, but all three still have pending TEA applications. (The TEA process "allows the FDA to approve the ingredients if they have been used for at least five years abroad and have proved effective and safe.")
There has been some hesitation from U.S. dermatologists to recommend foreign sunscreens because "a paucity of research and concerns that some may be highly allergenic or affect estrogen levels."
However, from the WSJ:
No such concerns have been cited for Tinosorb or Mexoryl, several doctors said. The filters have been used effectively outside the U.S. for a long time, according to Dr. Lim. The lack of UVA filters in the U.S. "does limit the ability of sunscreen manufacturers to manufacture good, broad-spectrum sunscreens," he said.
Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst for the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, D.C., said "not all the of the European sunscreen chemicals are good or better. But there are a handful that really stand out to us as worthy of consideration and would result in improvement for sun protection."
Give us our damn Tinosorb, FDA! Summer is coming and most of us can't afford a quick sunscreen run to France.
Image via Mangostock/Shutterstock.