RELEASE: Gottheimer Introduces “Sunscreen Safety Plan” to Ensure American’s Access to Effective Sunscreen

Calls on the FDA to approve new and safe sunscreen filters that have been available abroad for decades. Urges the federal government to increase public education efforts around sunscreen use

Jul 08, 2024
Press

Above: Gottheimer announces his new “Sunscreen Safety Plan.”

FAIR LAWN, NJ — Today, Monday, July 8, 2024, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) launched his new “Sunscreen Safety Plan,” to ensure more Americans have access to the most effective sunscreens to fend off skin cancer — and that they understand the importance of using them. Because of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) bureaucratic approval process for sunscreens filled with red tape, Americans have less access to safe and effective sunscreens than their peers in Europe or Asia. The United States has not approved a new ultraviolet (UV) filter since 1999. Studies have also found that only thirty-five percent of U.S. sunscreens are strong enough to pass EU standards. Gottheimer’s “Sunscreen Safety Plan” aims to streamline the FDA’s approval processes and strengthen its public education efforts, so Americans are fully protected from sun damage and skin cancer.

Video of Gottheimer’s remarks here

“One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and more than two people die of skin cancer in our country every hour. It’s critical that more Americans wear sunscreen and that we all have access to the absolute best and latest sun protecting products on the market,” said U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “With my ‘Sunscreen Safety Plan,’ we’re working to help ensure that Americans can access the most effective sunscreens and stay safe even on the sunniest of days. My strategy is a set of commonsense, bipartisan steps that we can take in Washington to keep families healthy and reduce the devastating incidence of skin cancer.”

“Today, Congressman Gottheimer is here to address a topic that affects us all: the importance of wearing sunscreen and ensuring we have safe sunscreen options. This issue is close to my heart, not just as the Deputy Mayor, but as a mother.” said Fair Lawn Deputy Mayor Cristina Cutrone. “It shouldn’t have to be this way: every sunscreen on the shelf should be safe, so that no one has to think twice about wearing it. This issue is also deeply personal to me, as my cousin Danielle is a skin cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with stage four melanoma at the age of 22, and after extensive treatment, she is cancer-free. She would want me today to remind all of you that skin cancer is often overlooked and not fully understood for how dangerous it can be. It’s one of the most common cancers, and yet, it can be one of the most preventable with the right precautions.”

Gottheimer’s “Sunscreen Safety Plan” Includes:

  1. letter to the FDA, urging them to follow through on a provision in the bipartisan CARES Act of 2020 and streamline the review process for over-the-counter products that are generally recognized as safe and effective like sunscreen. The CARES Act highlighted sixteen sunscreen active ingredients, available in Europe and Asia, that were ready for approval. The FDA does not plan to approve the most promising of these ingredients, bemotrizonol, until the end of 2025.
  2. A call to the FDA and other federal agencies, urging them to step up public education surrounding sunscreen.
  3. Support for the bipartisan FDA Modernization Act 3.0, which will establish a process for non-animal testing in drug development. This bill will replace animal testing with more precise non-clinical testing methods and get effective sunscreens onto the market faster.

Skin Cancer in the United States and the Importance of Sunscreen:

In addition to his “Sunscreen Safety Plan,” Gottheimer joined Dr. Ali Hadi, a dermatologist at Englewood Health, to provide some tips on proper sunscreen usage. Many of these tips come from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, a leading facility in treating skin cancer.

Tips for Sunscreen Usage Include:

  • Get a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection, so you’re protected against all kinds of UV radiation. Look for the words “Broad Spectrum” — which includes UVA and UVB — and “water resistant” on the bottle, especially if you’re going into the pool.
  • Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and it’s even better if it has zinc. 
  • Apply sunscreen early — and everywhere. It can take almost a half-hour to absorb sunscreen, and it’s important that you cover every part of your body that may be exposed to the sun. You are better off using a lotion than a spray.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours. You may need to reapply more frequently if you’re using spray sunscreen or swimming at a pool like this one.
  • Don’t just rely on sunscreen. Throw on a hat or my personal favorite, a pair of sunglasses to make sure you’re fully protected.

Gottheimer was joined by Fair Lawn Deputy Mayor Cristina Cutrone and Englewood Health dermatologist Dr. Ali Hadi.

Below: Gottheimer announces his new “Sunscreen Safety Plan.”

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

It’s great to be here this sunny morning at Fair Lawn Memorial Pool. It’s going to be a scorching hot day — and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in one of our great municipal pools. And if it gets any hotter, I may just have to deliver this speech directly from inside the pool!

I love summer, I love being outside in the Jersey sun — whether it’s staying cool at a pool like this one, or at one of our lakes, heading down the shore, playing a sport, or hiking Jersey’s more than 4,500 miles of trails. While it’s great to be outside, we need to take every precaution to stay safe and healthy while we’re out in the sun. Sunscreen is our best protection whenever we’re outside in the sun: it reduces the risk of sunburns, sun poisoning, and skin cancer. And it doesn’t matter whether you have fair skin like me, or a darker complexion, it’s absolutely critical that everyone wears sunscreen to both shield against sunburns and prevent skin cancer. Everyone is at risk. 

Sunburns occur when our skin experiences too much exposure to ultraviolet or UV rays. Every year, approximately 1,700 men and 840 women in New Jersey are diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma is the seventh most common cancer in our state. The nationwide statistics are shocking: one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and more than two people die of skin cancer in our country every hour. It’s critical that more Americans wear sunscreen and that we all have access to the absolute best and latest sun protecting products on the market. 

Today, I’m shining a light on my new “Sunscreen Safety Plan,” which includes concrete steps I’m taking to help more Americans shield themselves from the risks of the sun. 

A quick second on the science. Sunscreen acts like a shield against incoming UV rays, reducing your risk of absorbing UV rays and burning. SPF — the number on the corner of the bottle — isn’t just an arbitrary rating. It stands for sun protection factor and serves as a measure of just how strong the sunscreen shield is, specifically how much sun exposure the sunscreen can defend against. SPF 15 is the baseline, but on especially sunny days and peak times like the early afternoon, SPF 30 or greater is even better. 

UV isn’t a monolith. There are two types of UV rays, conveniently called UVA and UVB. UVA rays are longer and get into deeper layers of the skin, causing tanning and skin aging. UVB rays are shorter and can contribute to a whole host of issues, including DNA mutations that lead to melanoma and cataracts. 

Sunscreen is our best weapon against those harmful rays. Research shows that regular daily use of SPF 15 or higher sunscreen can reduce a person’s risk of squamous cell carcinoma by about forty percent and melanoma by fifty percent. 

We could be well on our way to reducing the rate of skin cancer here in the United States, but there are just two wrinkles – pardon the pun. Only about thirty percent of women and less than fifteen percent of men regularly and comprehensively use sunscreen. Beyond that, the sunscreen on the shelves here at stores across the United States is more limited and less effective against UVA exposure than sunscreens available in Europe and Asia.  Studies have found that only thirty-five percent of U.S. sunscreens are strong enough to pass EU standards, and many of the best sunscreens available in Europe and Asia aren’t making their way into the American market. 

Because of an archaic 1938 law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, classifies sunscreen as a drug, rather than cosmetic. Compared to cosmetic approval, the drug approval process takes more years and often costs life sciences companies millions of dollars. As a result, sunscreen producers are wary to undergo the process of getting new UV filters — the active ingredients in sunscreens — approved. The last time we had a new UV filter approved in the United States was 1999.

The slow-moving, bureaucratic approval process filled with red tape has hamstrung innovation here in the United States and set us behind our peers across the world. Right now, in Europe, there are twenty-nine approved UV filters and nine approved filters for UVA, specifically. We have just sixteen and four filters approved, respectively. The FDA is mulling over safety data from companies like BASF and L’Oreal that have already had their products on the European market for more than twenty years! This has to change.

So, how do we get more children and families to regularly wear sunscreen when they are outside, and how do we develop and get-to-the-American-market better, stronger sunscreens to shield us from those dangerous, cancer-causing UV rays?  

With my “Sunscreen Safety Plan,” I’m taking concrete steps to ensure more Americans have access to the most effective sunscreens to fend off skin cancer — and that they understand the importance of using them. 

First, I’m sending a letter to the FDA, telling them to speed up the approval process for new sunscreen ingredients that we know are safe and effective. In 2020, I was proud to help pass the bipartisan CARES Act, which ensured our country was fully equipped to fight COVID-19. One of the provisions in CARES essentially streamlined the review process for over-the-counter products that we generally recognize as safe and effective like sunscreen and antacids. 

In the bill, we highlighted sixteen sunscreen ingredients that science — and experience in Europe and Asia — has shown to be safe and effective. Four years on, and we’re still not seeing enough movement. One of the most promising active ingredients, bemotrizinol won’t hit the market until the end of next year, at the earliest.

The message of my letter is pretty simple: time is ticking, and the sun is growing stronger. We need a clear roadmap for when these ingredients will be approved, and when we can expect new and improved sunscreens to head to the market. I’ve asked the FDA what parts of the approval process they’ve identified as most difficult for industry — so we in Congress can fix them.

Second, we need Americans to understand the importance of wearing sunscreen.  I’ve called on the FDA to work with other government agencies and launch more robust public education surrounding sunscreen. As you heard from Deputy Mayor Cutrone, it can be incredibly confusing to try and navigate which sunscreen to wear, how frequently to apply it, and more as a parent. We need our health agencies to be out front — on television, social media, and in our communities — explaining that sunscreen is safe, meant for all-year-round use, and necessary for everyone, regardless of skin tone.

Finally, I’m working across the aisle in Congress to help cut down on FDA bureaucracy and unleash innovation in the life sciences, which is especially key for sunscreen. I’m a proud cosponsor of the bipartisan FDA Modernization Act 3.0, which will establish a process for non-animal testing in drug development. We can replace animal testing with more precise non-clinical testing methods and get effective sunscreens onto the market faster.

Before I conclude, I want to share a few quick tips that you can take today to effectively use sunscreen, mostly provided by the MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

  1. Get a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection, so you’re protected against all kinds of UV radiation. Look for the words “Broad Spectrum” — which includes UVA and UVB — and “water resistant” on the bottle, especially if you’re going into the pool.
  2. Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and it’s even better if it has zinc. 
  3. Apply sunscreen early — and everywhere. It can take almost a half-hour to absorb sunscreen, and it’s important that you cover every part of your body that may be exposed to the sun. You are better off using a lotion than a spray.
  4. Reapply sunscreen every two hours. You may need to reapply more frequently if you’re using spray sunscreen or swimming at a pool like this one.
  5. Don’t just rely on sunscreen. Throw on a hat or my personal favorite, a pair of sunglasses to make sure you’re fully protected.

With my “Sunscreen Safety Plan,” we’re working to help ensure that Americans can access the most effective sunscreens and stay safe even on the sunniest of days. My strategy is a set of commonsense, bipartisan steps that we can take in Washington to keep families healthy and reduce the devastating incidence of skin cancer. 

By working together to protect our health, here in the greatest country in the world, I know that our best days will always be ahead of us. Thank you, and please remember to be safe this summer. God bless you, your families, and God bless the United States of America.

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