Happy Vacations, Healthy Skin

08/27/2014 11:39 am ET | Updated Oct 27, 2014

If you're like me, it's hardly imaginable that Labor Day 2014 is almost here. And with it the end of our summer where we vacation, rest and have fun in the sun. Which takes us to one of the more agreeable and bipartisan legislative successes, namely the House of Representatives' passage of the Sunscreen Innovation Act just before adjourning for their August recess.

Yes, you read that right. But before you mock it, consider how access to stronger skin protection will change the vacation dynamic between the Hamptons and the South of France, or LA's Venice Beach and Australia's Gold Coast. Consider how a little bit of smart public policy can drive great innovation that will have a positive impact on all of us as we age. The application of effective sunscreen -- sunscreen built on 21st century innovation -- can reduce melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers considerably, both of which we are increasingly susceptible to as we age.

The FDA has not approved a new sunscreen ingredient in 15 years. The U.S. is singularly retrograde in the regulatory restraints it has put on the otherwise innovative advances in sunscreen, which are contributing healthier and more active aging for many worldwide. Here's the problem, which this legislation will correct. Currently, companies that make sunscreens in America have limited options for formulating their products, resulting in products that provide inadequate protection from UVA rays. In the U.S., our FDA has failed to review and approve the very same sunscreen ingredients that have been sold for years in Europe, Australia and other countries. And it is at least interesting that it has taken two congressmen from across the aisle -- Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) -- to bring the FDA to its senses, and in the process help us all. .

But, it's more than our vacations at stake here (which themselves are increasingly understood to have positive impact on healthy aging). It's our life-long health that hangs in the balance. Skin cancer is the most common cancer of all cancers, with more than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S alone each year. Skin cancer is on the rise; by 2015, it is estimated that one in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime -- startling statistic considering 75 percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma and that on average, one American dies from melanoma every hour.

Older adults are at higher risk of skin cancer; 82 percent of non-melanoma skin cancer cases occur in people over the age of 60. The risk of skin cancers increase as we age simply because older people have been exposed the sun for a longer time. As the U.S. population ages rapidly, with the 65 and older population growing from 43.1 million in 2012 to 83.7 million in 2050, skin cancer becomes an even greater threat to people as they age as well as to the public health system broadly.

If we continue to neglect the best and most effective approach to skin protection, the cost to our society will skyrocket as well. The U.S. spends billions each year treating skin cancer. In 2004, the estimated cost for the treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer was $1.5 billion, and in 2010 the estimated cost for the treatment of melanoma was $2.36 billion. Regular sunscreen is proven to reduce incidence of skin cancer - a cost-effective approach to prevention and health as we age, not just in old age. Perhaps it's no surprise then that our European and Australian friends, who are experiencing a more dramatic aging of their populations, are also benefiting from a heightened sense of urgency to grab innovative solutions for healthy aging.

While Congress debated the merits of introducing new sunscreen legislation, across the pond in the United Kingdom, skin and aging experts and other global thought leaders came together for the first time ever to promote skin health as a critical component of active and healthy aging. At this ground-breaking event in Manchester, expert attendees affirmed the many ways aging skin affects the physical, mental and emotional health of the aging person and agreed that skin care -- an underappreciated global health concern - is critical to active aging. The Manchester Summit 2014 is paving the way for greater global commitment to research, education and policy action around a life course of active aging and healthy skin.

The U.S. cannot afford to fall further behind in skin health. Aging demographics demand quick legislative action to improve our access to the best skin protectants available. The shortsightedness of the U.S. FDA is as stunning as the fact that it takes the ultimate do-nothing congress to mobilize action. Our vacations this summer will not have benefited from the sunscreen innovation Congressmen Dingell and Whitfield have championed, unless of course you happen have traveled to the old world, where you can buy the new stuff.