The people flocking to the Florida coast this summer will slather on sunscreen containing the latest ingredients for protecting against the sun's most harmful ultraviolet rays.
But American beachgoers will have to make do with sunscreens that dermatologists and cancer-research groups say are less effective and have changed little over the past decade.
That's because applications for the newer sunscreen ingredients have languished for years in the bureaucracy of the Food and Drug Administration, which must approve the products before they reach consumers.
"We have a system here that's completely broken down, and everybody knows that it has broken down," said Wendy Selig, president of the Melanoma Research Alliance, the largest private funding source of melanoma research.
Her group and others, along with dermatologists and sunscreen manufacturers, have joined forces to make a public push for the FDA to approve at least some of the backlogged applications.
The agency has not expanded its list of approved sunscreen ingredients since 1999. Eight ingredient applications are pending, some dating to 2003. Many of the ingredients are designed to provide broader protection from certain types of UV rays and were approved years ago in Europe, Asia, South America and elsewhere.
The FDA noted that U.S. consumers "have access to a great number of sunscreen products," but said in a statement to The Washington Post that it recognizes the public health importance of sunscreen and has prioritized its review of the long-pending applications. The agency said "it is proceeding as quickly as practicable given available review resources and competing public health responsibilities."
In the meantime, advocates for newer sunscreens have grown increasingly frustrated.
"These sunscreens are being used by tens of millions of people every weekend in Europe, and we're not seeing anything bad happening," said Darrell S. Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University and past president of the American Academy of Dermatologists. "It's sort of crazy. .?.?. We're depriving ourselves of something the rest of the world has."
Even some FDA officials have expressed frustration about how the applications have become mired in a complex regulatory regime, adopted more than a decade ago, that was originally intended to simplify approvals for over-the-counter products used in other countries for at least five years.
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