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Sen. Schumer asks FDA to release data on common sunscreen ingredient linked to skin cancer

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June 16, 2010

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York has urged the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to release their review of studies concerning cancer risk associated with retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A derivative commonly used in sunscreens, to the public.

AOL News reported in May of learning through documents and interviews that the FDA has known of the potential dangers of vitamin A and its derivatives for as long as a decade, which the FDA denied.

Researchers have been working for about ten years, at the request of the FDA, trying to determine if retinyl palmitate and other chemicals are safe for use in sunscreen products. Although the studies have been complete since July of 2009, the FDA has yet to issue a final assessment or guidance on the data.

Studies from the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) have suggested a possible link between skin cancer and retinyl palmitate. In one study, tumors and lesions developed up to 21 percent faster in lab animals coated in retinyl palmitate-laced cream than animals treated with a cream that did not contain RP.

According to the data, retinyl palmitate may be photocarcinogenic, or that ultraviolet light causes a reaction between the chemical and skin cells, in which the skin cells turn cancerous.

The consumer watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that retinyl palmitate is an ingredient in 41% of sunscreens on the market today.

The government researchers also studied the safety and health effects of nanosized particles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in sunscreens.

“With the recent reports suggesting a possible link between skin cancer and a common chemical found in sunscreens, the FDA must act now to protect consumers in New York and across the nation,” Schumer said. “Summer is here, people are soaking up the sun and the FDA needs to immediately provide guidance and reassurance to consumers. When it comes to the health and safety of the public, there is no room for delay.”

The EWG recently released its fourth annual Sunscreen Guide. This year EWG tested 500 current sunscreen products on the market. Out of 500 sunscreens, their researchers could recommend the use of 39 products, only 8%.

They rejected products containing retinyl palmitate, saying that they recommend consumers choose a vitamin A free sunscreen. Some of the products failed due to exaggerated SPF ratings. EWG also eliminated products containing oxybensone, a hormone-disrupting compound, found in 60% of the 500 sunscreen products.

See the EWG list of the Best Sunscreens or visit their Hall of Shame for a list of prime examples of products and players that EWG says typify what’s wrong with the sun protection business.

Schumer added, “Millions of Americans use sunscreen to keep themselves and their families protected from the dangers of too much sun. If the product they are using is doing more harm than good, they have a right to know.”