Nanny of the week: No fun in the sun, thanks to Congress and FDA

Part 14 of 14 in the series Nanny State of the Week

By Eric Boehm |

Whether playing soccer, lounging on the beach or knocking back a few rounds on a rooftop bar, fun in the summer seems to always come with the threat of an annoying, and cancer-inducing, sunburn.

For millions of pale-skinned Americans (including yours truly) who aren’t willing to pay for time in a tanning bed to get that base layer, sunscreen lotion is one of the only options. But we’re all using a sub-par product, thanks to congressional nannies and their partners-in-nannying at the Food and Drug Administration, who have been unwilling to update the federal regulations on sunscreen for more than a decade.

YOU CAN MAKE A BETTER SUN BLOCK: But Congress won’t let you sell it.

Until this week, when Congress finally approved the Sunscreen Innovation Act of 2014, Americans were forced to use lotions that could meet requirements set out in a 1997 law giving the FDA guidelines for legal sunscreens.

A lot has changed since 1997, of course. Cell phones are no longer the size of bricks, teal is no longer considered an acceptable color for professional sports teams and Matthew Perry is no longer considered an employable actor.

A lot has changed in the world of sunscreens too — believe it or not. There are new formulas and new ingredients that help keep skin safe from the burning summer rays.

But not in America.

As Time Magazine explained last month, there are eight sunscreen ingredients that have been determined to be perfectly safe for use in other countries that have been waiting for American approval for a decade or more:

Most of these ingredients have been widely used in countries like Europe and Asia and are generally considered safe and effective, and in many cases protect against UVA rays better than some American products.

The holdup lies in the way sunscreen ingredients are regulated. In Europe, sunscreen is regulated as a cosmetic, but in the U.S., sunscreens go through a drug approval-like process, which takes much longer.

James Gattuso, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal that “this is just one more example of how out-of-control regulation can end up compromising the health and safety of Americans, rather than protect it.

Even though Congress updated the regulations this week to let the FDA begin approving those new (if you can count something that was introduced to the rest of the world in 2004 as “new”) products, the underlying problem is the same. Instead of making sunscreens count as cosmetics — which, come on, they obviously are — the FDA will still regard them as drugs.

And thus, the war on drugs reaches new levels of absurdity.

For their role in preventing Americans from purchasing the same products as one can find on any nude beach in France, Congress and the FDA are this week’s winners. Their prize is an unhealthy dose of UV rays.

Boehm can be reached at and follow @EricBoehm87 and @WatchdogOrg on Twitter for more.