It's hard to believe how much interest and controversy sunscreens have been able to generate lately. As the FDA once again delays publication of a final sunscreen monograph (the new target date is October 2010), the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published its annual review of sunscreens— and the widely-reported findings are less than stellar.

In its fourth yearly analysis and report, EWG recommends just eight percent—or 39 out of 500—of beach and sport sunscreens on the US market this season. That tepid endorsement, along with some general warnings about sunscreens, grabbed headlines, but the EWG's findings may not be as sensational as they've been made to sound. In fact, the report actually highlights many of the issues dermatologists have been educating patients about for years. When the new sunscreen monograph emerges, it is expected to address many of the problems cited by the EWG.

For example, the independent, non-profit group—which is not a government agency—noted concerns about exaggerated claims, such as, “all day protection.” Such labels are almost certain to be banished soon. The group estimates that the average individual uses about one-quarter the amount of sunscreen needed to achieve the labeled SPF, leading in some instances to an SPF 30 product performing like an SPF 2.3, they say.

Sunscreens also received a blow from healthcare reform legislation. While over-the-counter drugs, including sunscreens, had been eligible for health care flexible spending accounts or health spending accounts (HSAs), effective January 2011, they will not be. It's not likely that patients/consumers will stop purchasing sunscreens if they can't use HSA funds, but the policy change could send the wrong message by suggesting that sunscreens are not necessary for health. Limiting the number of items eligible for HSA funds was a simple way for legislators to put taxable income back on the table and help offset the costs of the massive healthcare overhaul. It was a little-reported but potentially significant change in healthcare, and perhaps one of many more to emerge as reform measures go into effect.