Protecting us from sunscreen?

Posted: Jul 06, 2005 12:00 AM

Did you damage your skin while you were out celebrating our freedom Monday? You might have been safer if you were freer.

 The Declaration of Independence makes many charges against King George III, including: "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People and eat out their Substance." Our federal government has behaved similarly, expanding its bureaucracy and empowering swarms of officials to harass us.

 By aging our skin, for example.

 Let me explain. The sun sends us two kinds of ultraviolet radiation: UVA and UVB. Our suntan lotions are good at screening out the sun's UVB rays, so they help us avoid sunburn and skin cancer. But our sunscreens don't offer much protection against UVA rays, and those are the rays that eventually make us look like prunes.

 "Ultraviolet A light ages your skin," said Dr. Darrell Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University. "It's a longer wavelength, so it can penetrate deeper into the skin, and instead of attacking the upper layers of the skin where skin cancer often forms, it attacks the layers that give your skin its tone, its elasticity, as we call it. ... You get the lines, the wrinkles, all the things associated from aging."

 But there's good news. Lotions that contain the ingredients Oxybenzone, Titanium Dioxide or Parsol 1789 block out some UVA rays.

 Adding a chemical called Mexoryl offers even better protection.

 "It produces a product which gives us almost perfect protection against sunshine," said Dr. Vincent DeLeo, chairman of dermatology at Columbia University.

 People are happily protecting themselves with Mexoryl in South America, Europe, Australia and Canada, but in the USA you are forbidden to use it. The FDA won't approve it. It won't even say why.

 Dermatologists assume Mexoryl is just stuck in the bureaucracy. It routinely takes 12 to 15 years for a drug to get approval, and after a drug -- Vioxx, for example -- gets bad publicity as a health risk, the FDA gets particularly cautious.

 Common sense says we should use it Mexoryl. All drugs have risks as well as benefits, and Mexoryl has been in use in other countries for 13 years. It's passed many safety tests. Yet our FDA won't even talk about it?

 Although Mexoryl is illegal in the United States, ABC News found it at some pharmacies. Sometimes it was hidden. You had to ask for it. It was expensive -- $30 to $50.

 I don't fault the pharmacists; they're serving their customers.

 Big government is the problem. The purpose of government is to protect our rights. When other people attack us, we need government for protection.

 When threats come from the natural environment, however, the place to look for protection is normally the market. Inventors and investors, eager to make money, offer us a variety of life-improving possibilities every year. But when the government tries to protect us from them, what it really does is force us to face dangers without the protection innovative technology can provide.

 Nature gives us cold winters and hot summers, so we create clothing and buildings to keep us from getting too cold or too hot. Nature gives us ultraviolet radiation, so we develop shades and sunscreens. In each case, the mind of man produces an invention suited to the challenge -- and, if not stopped, proceeds to invent even better ways to meet the challenge.

 But in cases like Mexoryl, our government forbids us to adopt new ways to meet our challenges. The complaint may sound familiar. It's what arrogant authorities do: "He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so Suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them."

 Comparing the FDA to King George may sound like I'm taking sunscreen too seriously. But as the Founders understood, when it comes to government, it's the principle that's important; an unaccountable authority that can force you to accept wrinkles can force you to accept far worse. A few pence on a box of tea wasn't much either.