Over the past 25 years, no category of “cosmetics” has seen change like sunscreens. None has created the scientific and regulatory debate, been subjected to more meetings and done more to confound industry, regulators and consumers. This is due to a steep learning curve about these products, an ever-changing understanding of ultraviolet radiation, and an evolution in thinking about skin cancer as well as how to regulate sunscreens. Just when it seems that sunscreens have hit some kind of finality, something changes.
Look no further than the number of years, in fact decades, that were required for the United States to update its drug Monograph for sunscreens, with Canada following shortly thereafter. Whether or not one agrees with these decisions, most will agree that a clear impression of finality was given. But as is typical, with this ever-changing category, authorities are now reconsidering. In Canada, for example, it is entirely possible that simple sunscreens like foundations and moisturizers will be reclassified as cosmetics. And in the United States, there is speculation that the entire monograph system might be scrapped.
Start by looking at how attitudes toward the sun have evolved. During this author's lifetime, consumers of Western nations have completely changed their views of the sun. There was a time when people streamed to the beach, armed only with a bottle of baby oil. The folklore was that this would somehow “maximize” one's tan. Most sun worshipers in the 1960s ended up looking like heavily basted roasted turkeys. Over the years, they traded their beautifully bronzed, youthful skin for deeply wrinkled, old-looking skin. Sadly, many died of malignant melanoma, the most severe type of skin cancer.