[Paleopsych] NYT: Psst! This Stuff Keeps You Young, but It's Illegal
checker at panix.com
Mon Jun 20 00:31:32 UTC 2005
Psst! This Stuff Keeps You Young, but It's Illegal
By LAUREL NAVERSEN GERAGHTY
MEXORYL is not the most notorious drug on the black market. Only a few
insiders, most of them women, even know its worth, let alone where to
buy it. But it is one of the most ordinary substances ever to be
bootlegged. Mexoryl SX, made by the Paris-based skin-care giant
L'Oréal, is an illegal sunscreen in this country, one that is thought
to be particularly useful in preventing wrinkles.
Called by dermatologists one of the most effective filters of all
wavelengths of ultraviolet light, Mexoryl has been used in sunscreen
lotions sold in Canada and Europe for more than a decade. But the Food
and Drug Administration has not yet approved it.
The reason for the delay is difficult to discern, because the F.D.A.
does not comment on drugs going through its sometimes lengthy approval
process. Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, a dermatologist at New York University,
however, said safety is not an issue. "It's just bureaucracy," he
And so the cognoscenti ask for Ombrelle Extreme ($11), Garnier's Ambre
Solaire ($24) or the particularly coveted Anthélios XL by La
Roche-Posay ($40 and more for a relatively small tube) at certain drug
stores - like Zitomer and Cambridge Chemists on Manhattan's Upper East
Side - or order it online from Canadian or French pharmacies or even
on eBay. Though the F.D.A. does not track down and prosecute those
consumers, the purchases are technically illegal.
When asked about the decision to sell the unapproved sunscreens,
representatives of both Zitomer and Cambridge Chemists declined to
"I started buying it from Canada," one 46-year-old New Yorker said
about Anthélios, which she has used for three years. (She insisted
that her name not be published because she did not want it publicly
connected with illegal purchases.) The Canadian pharmacy Web site
feelbest.com sells a three-ounce tube for a little over $20, which
is less than half the cost at Cambridge Chemists.
The woman said she finds Anthélios lighter than titanium dioxide
sunblocks and less likely to stain her clothes. "I buy it by the
case," she said. "It's pretty good stuff."
The demand for Mexoryl is partly driven by one of the strongest
motives: vanity. People are getting wise to the idea that UVA rays,
less known than sunburn-causing UVB rays, cause classic signs of
aging, not only wrinkles but also sagging skin, brown spots and yellow
discoloration. And finding a legal sunscreen in the United States that
effectively blocks UVA light, which Mexoryl-enhanced products do, is
not as easy as it might seem.
Sunscreen labels often advertise "full spectrum" or "broad spectrum"
properties, meaning that they block both UVA and UVB rays. But
products can make this claim without specifying how well they protect
against UVA rays. And because the familiar sun protection factor (SPF)
measurements apply only to UVB blockage, consumers have no handy way
to gauge the effectiveness of UVA filters.
A 2004 Procter & Gamble study that looked at 188 United States
sunscreens found that only 56 percent offered significant UVA
protection, though 82 percent claimed to do so.
Part of the problem is that only within the last 10 years have
scientists come to understand the biomechanics of UVA damage. "Up
until 1995 the thinking was that UVA was not as important as we now
know," Dr. Rigel said.
So far the Food and Drug Administration has approved only three
ingredients protective against UVA: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and
avobenzone (trade name Parsol 1789).
But Mexoryl seems more effective than any of these at protecting
against UVA light. In 2000, Canadian and French researchers slathered
six brands of sunscreen and sunblock on the backs of volunteers and
exposed their skin to a UV sunlamp for 15 minutes. The product
containing Mexoryl (along with avobenzone, titanium dioxide and other
ingredients) was more than twice as effective in protecting against
UVA light as any of the others. The study was published in the Journal
of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Mexoryl's secret is its chemical structure, Dr. Rigel said. "You can
achieve much more efficient and powerful and effective protection with
this one ingredient, or you can add it to another ingredient and get
an incredibly high SPF protection level, all the way up to SPF 90," as
well as UVA protection, he said.
The difference between UVA and UVB light is a matter of wavelength.
UVA rays come in longer wavelengths (320 to 400 nanometers), so they
pass through the outer layer of skin, rather than burning it as do the
shorter UVB rays (290 to 320 nanometers). UVA rays penetrate deep into
the dermis, or lower layer of skin, where they can break down collagen
and other proteins that keep the skin plump and firm.
"That deeper penetration and deeper damage is what we think is really
associated with premature aging in the skin," said Dr. Clay J.
Cockerell, a Dallas dermatologist, who is president of the American
Academy of Dermatology.
The UVA rays can also damage cells and DNA in the dermis, decrease the
skin's immunity and generate harmful free radicals. Though the exact
mechanisms remain unclear, doctors assume these actions explain why
UVA exposure is also associated with skin cancer.
Unlike UVB light, prevalent only when the sun is high in the sky -
between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during summer - UVA light is virtually
inescapable. "It's present in the same amount from sunup to sundown,
365 days a year, totally independent of climate conditions," said Dr.
Katie Rodan, an associate clinical dermatologist at Stanford
That means it not only penetrates car windows and T-shirts, but it
also reaches the skin during fog, rain and even blizzards.
Mexoryl is also very sturdy compared with other UVA filters, which
tend to decompose when exposed to sunlight. That may account for
Mexoryl's slightly gummy texture, which can be noticeable on the skin
long after it has been applied.
It is hard to tell whether Mexoryl will make it to the United States
market anytime soon. A L'Oréal spokeswoman would say only that the
company has "initiated a process of discussion with the F.D.A.
regarding Mexoryl and is continuing to work closely with the F.D.A."
Doctors say UVA protection in this country has been slow to improve
because consumers are not yet aware of the damage UVA light can do and
of how inadequately many "broad spectrum" sunscreens protect against
"I take care of some very well-educated people," Dr. Rodan of Stanford
said. "Half of them are Berkeley professors. But beyond the SPF
number, they don't know anything about sunscreen or what UVA light
does. It's like 'in SPF I trust,' but that's so misleading when you
consider the whole picture."
More information about the paleopsych