The FDA Wants to Make Sunscreen Safer, Finally

22 Feb

On Thursday, the FDA announced that it is beginning a process to update regulatory requirements for sunscreen products. The proposed rules seek to bring over-the-counter sunscreen regulation into the 21st century.

“Some of the essential requirements for these preventive tools haven’t been updated in decades,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “Today’s action is an important step in the FDA’s ongoing efforts to take into account modern science to ensure the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens.”

The FDA has reexamined some common active ingredients in sunscreens, and will continue to do so, looking to determine whether they are safe and effective. Of the 16 total active ingredients the agency is evaluating, two have been approved and two have been determined to be unsafe. The agency is asking the industry and other interested parties for additional data on the remaining 12, which includes the active ingredient oxybenzone.

Rowan Jacobsen wrote in Outside’s recent online feature “Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?” that oxybenzone has been found to be a hormone disruptor “that can be detected in users’ blood and breast milk.” It has already been banned in Hawaii and the western Pacific nation of Palau because it “mutates the DNA of corals and is believed to be killing coral reefs.”

According to David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, the burden to prove whether active ingredients like oxybenzone are safe is on the industry, and, if it cannot do so, those will be disallowed from over-the-counter sale. “In the meantime, those ingredients can stay on the market, they're not coming off the market, but the clock is ticking on them,” he said, adding that oxybenzone is in the majority of products that might be found at your local pharmacy.  

The two active ingredients that have already been marked as safe are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The two that are no longer considered safe and effective for use are PABA and trolamine salicylate, which, according to Andrews, have not been in products on the market for years.

In issuing the proposal, the FDA is looking to establish what it calls “final monograph regulations” for over-the-counter sunscreens, something that is required by the Sunscreen Innovation Act. Essentially, this would create clear cut rules for the sunscreen industry. The deadline for that monograph is November. As for those ingredients still outstanding, “They can't be a part of the final monograph if they are not recognized as generally safe and effective,” said Andrews.

The FDA says additional data on sunscreens that come in the form of powders is needed to determine their safety. The same goes for new products such as wipes, towelettes, body washes, and shampoos.

In addition to the proposals regarding product form and ingredients, the agency also addressed labeling. The maximum SPF on labels is set to increase from 50+ to 60+ and active ingredient information would have to be conveyed on the front of the package, much like other over-the-counter drugs. Also, as a sunscreen’s SPF increases, its UVA radiation protection would have to increase by a similar magnitude, “to ensure that these products provide consumers with the protections that they expect.”

Andrews said the current rules were written when people would apply sunscreen when they went to the beach. Now, people apply it everywhere, all the time. According to him, the new proposal will even the playing field between the established companies with their preferred active ingredients and the ones popular in other countries that are vying for U.S. approval. “All these companies need to step up to the plate to validate themselves,” he said.  

Why These Guys Slacklined Across the Mexico-U.S. Border

20 Feb

On January 25, the last day of the government shutdown as politicians played a game of tug-o-war over President Trump’s demand for a border wall, Corbin Kunst was on a rope strung between Mexico and the United States. The 27-year-old ropes-course technician from Petaluma, California, balanced on a slackline connecting Big Bend National Park with the Mexican Parque Nacional Cañon de Santa Elena, hundreds of feet above the Rio Grande. His friend, 26-year-old Bend, Oregon-based filmmaker Kylor Melton, directed the filming of this feat. On Monday, the team released this footage, a trailer for a longer film about the highline to come out soon.

In addition to Kunst and Melton, the team included several other Americans and Mexican nationals, including one more slackliner, Jamie Marrufo, who also completed the walk between the two countries. We had questions about the project, so we caught up with the young duo. 

OUTSIDE: Why slackline the border and why now?
CORBIN KUNST: I first saw a picture of the canyon, Santa Elena, a couple of years ago actually, and it was always kind of a pipe dream. I thought, "How cool would it be to break this epic highline over the Rio Grande and it connecting two countries?" From the beginning the idea was to always have a Mexican team and a U.S. team working together and have that harmony—have it be this symbol of trust. When you rig a highline, you're literally putting your life in your team’s hands. I always thought that would be really beautiful, simple, and a really powerful project. As things developed in our current times—tension with Mexico politically going as far as it’s gone—I told my idea to Kylor.

KYLOR MELTON: This was like three weeks ago. Corbin hit me up with this idea and was like, "Hey, I have this super distant idea that I'm thinking about doing." And I was like, "Bro, can you be at my house tomorrow?"

What went into making this idea come to life? What were the logistics?
CK: The Mexican team rigged their anchor and we rigged our anchor and it was completely up to them. I know everyone on the Mexican team, and I helped form that team. I already had trust in them—I knew that they knew what they were doing. No one had to guide them or guide us. We just kind of split up and worked together, which is really cool.

So, we threw a tagline, which is just a thin piece of paracord, and strung each side down into the river and a team member connected the two lines at the river. That tagline goes up and then the actual slackline is fed across that. I think that trust is a very powerful message. It about us coming together, working together, on all those levels.

KM: The trust is inherent. The message is that we wanted to come together. Be two groups of people coming together to accomplish and stand for what they believe.

Who was the group comprised of?
KM: Our team consisted of friends. We had a small group—I think there was five of us on our side.

CK: Including filmmakers.

KM: So our side was pretty small. The Mexican side was something like six people. From all across Mexico, Chihuahua, Mexico City …

CK: ... Monterrey ...

KM: ... There was like a really diverse group of friends there. We had a filmmaker on the Mexican side that was helping document that part of the story.

Can you give us some specs on this line? How long was it? How far from the canyon floor? What long did it take to walk across?
KM: So our laser pro-pointer broke somehow, but, if we had to gauge, about 100 meters long.

CK: We're estimating that we were about 400-plus feet from the canyon floor. This wasn't your average slackline walk because we were filming, but if we were just walking across it, it only takes a few minutes.

KM: It’s like a 100 meters, so you could walk that in 45 seconds. Not on the highline, like on the ground—highlining takes a little bit longer. But they crushed this line. I don't even think they fell. I mean they fell like once or twice.

They fell? How does that work?
CK: Highlining is actually a very safe sport—we were always tethered to the line. Just like in rock climbing—how most people are using protection, very few people in the sport free solo—it’s the same thing in slacklining. So free soloing is not what highlining is all about. Most the time when we highline, we're tethered.

So what were you thinking about in the middle of that line, in the middle of performing this stunt?
CK: I don't like thinking of it as a stunt. It was much more than that. I mean for me it was the most important slackline I have ever walked. It had so much power in it. That so many people came together and wanted to do this idea with me. The idea wouldn't have gone anywhere unless people also felt that this was a powerful message. So, for me, as I was walking the line, that's what was going on in my head the whole time. Everything in my whole life had led up to that point of people trusting me and trusting this idea and believing in it enough to actually show up and do this. After I finished, I was pretty blitzed out. I was ecstatic.

It looks like this project was filmed with a drone. Did you have permits to use the drone in the national park?
KM: You only need permits to film in the park if your doing a commercial shoot and by all standards this is a passion project, right now. So we didn't have a permit, and the government was shut down so even if we tried to get a permit, we wouldn't get one because there were no resources to accept, acknowledge, or give us a permit. Also, the drone itself was all flown from the Mexican side. It's an interesting area. The government says as long as you’re outside the park boundaries, they don't have any control. So you can be on the border and fly into a national park.

How do you respond to skeptics that say the highline, politics aside, was illegal and could have unnecessarily put park rangers in danger if tasked to perform a rescue?
CK: We did everything, to our knowledge, legally. The fact that the Mexican team rigged their own anchors, we rigged our anchors, we floated down the river with a river permit. Everyone that goes down the river is basically taking the same risk as we were. We were on a river trip. We did the slackline. All of us are proficient riggers and I talked to a lot of lawyers, attorneys, before the project to make sure we were actually doing everything legally.

KM: It may not be perceived as safe—you hundreds of feet up, dangling on a wire—but there's actually very few injuries, deaths or anything like that in highlining.

CK: On the U.S. side, we were not allowed to bolt.

KM: Bolting meaning drilling hole…

CK: ... And put a bolt in and a hanger and rig off those bolts, which is very common in rock climbing and slacklining.

KM: But we did not do that.

CK: We respected the park's rules by rigging it naturally. So I just literally slung massive boulders with a rope. In that way, we were trying to do our due diligence of respecting the park's rules. They bolted on the Mexican side and there's no rules against that in the Santa Elena National Park.

KM: In every way we respected the laws and regulations. This isn't about disrespecting those laws, this isn't about fighting a war with Trump, this is about people coming together. These people from different lands to tell a story of bringing people together rather than separating us with that fear-based division mindset.

Okay, so what’s the next move and when will the movie be out?
KM: That’s a good question. Right now I am deep, deep in the editing cave cranking away at it. I’m doing everything in my power to essentially channel energy behind this idea, to get eyes on it, and to begin to have people care about it. I'm hoping I’ll have this film ready very soon.

Anything else to add?
CK: Something that I would like to add is we also want to give voice to our Mexican friends, who were the whole other half of the team. The more and more that we reveal of this story, the more it's going to be in Spanish. We want that perspective shown too. We want this to inspire people and be a catalyst for conversation about bringing people together. I know people are going to start getting political and being like, "Oh, why are you trying to divide us? Why are you trying to put out a political video? Why are you trying to polarize us?" And I really want to bring it back to the fact that this was was a Mexican team consenting with an American team to come together to be one team. This is us being a symbol and connecting, and learning about each other, having a cultural exchange using our passion of slacklining as that medium. We want to show others, "What are you doing with your life to build bridges?”

For updates on the project, sign up for a newsletter on Melton’s website.

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

How Global Warming Will Change Outside’s Best Towns

14 Feb

On Tuesday, climate researchers published a study that took 540 North American urban areas and matched each of their projected future climates with the current climate of another. The purpose of the study was to provide a more relatable assessment of climate change’s impact.

This got us wondering: What do the predicted changes mean for the kind of places our readers have dreamed of living? So we decided to take our 2017 list of best towns and see what their climates would look like in 2080, which is the year the researchers used for the process they call “climate-analog mapping.”

St. Petersburg, Florida Transforms into Ciudad Mante, Mexico

The town we selected for “Best Paddling in the Gulf” was actually not included in the study’s climate pairing. However, St. Petersburg is part of the Tampa Bay metro area, which was included.

Tampa Bay’s typical winter is supposed to be almost 75 percent drier in 2080. But, according to another interactive map, the coastal areas might not feel drier, per say, because by that time, with unchecked emissions, sea level there is projected to be 3 feet higher. That would put most of the place we used as a pillar of our best paddling selection, Weedon Island Preserve, completely under water, likely altering the preserve’s mangrove tunnels and making its necklace of islands nonexistent. Luckily for the residents of Ciudad Mante, their city sits at 272 feet above sea level.  

Anchorage, Alaska Becomes Powell River, Canada

This projection is absolutely nuts.

According to the study, the typical winter in Alaska’s most populated city will be 24 degrees warmer and more than three and a half times wetter in 2080.

Currently, the metro area we named the best for “Making the Most of Summer” receives an average of about 3.15 inches of precipitation between the months of December and March. That number would jump to just over 11 inches. With winter being two dozen degrees warmer, that precipitation would likely mean more rain than snow. These factors would make the climate resemble that of Powell River, British Columbia, which sits on the province’s upper Sunshine Coast and within the traditional territory of the Tla’amin first nations tribe.

In 2017, we wrote that Anchorage “is the kind of town where you can do a 50K nordic race within city limits”—this doesn’t look like it will be possible in 2080.

Bend, Oregon Turns Into Spanish Springs, Nevada

The future climate of our “Best Multi-Sport Town” will resemble that of our “Best Low-Key Hideout” town, Reno, Nevada, of which Spanish Springs is a suburb. Bend’s typical summer will be more than 10 degrees warmer and 44 percent drier.

This one might not be that bad. Our 2017 listing for Bend highlighted the craft brew scene and the town’s 20,000-square-foot rock climbing gym. Those two things might not change much, but what about skiing Mt. Bachelor? As for Reno, we also commented favorably on the Biggest Little City’s libation scene, its own proximity to Mt. Rose, and the 164-foot climbing wall located at the Whitney Peak Hotel.

But to say that Bend would be just like Reno would of course be a vast oversimplification. And, with a much drier summer, the Deschutes River, which runs right through the middle of town and includes the Bend Whitewater Park, would likely be much less of an attraction.

As for Reno, its 2080 climate would resemble that of Hurricane, Utah, which does not experience the high levels of moisture its name might imply. In fact, the typical winter there is about 6 degrees warmer and 41 percent drier.

Missoula, Montana Resembles Lewiston, Idaho

We awarded Missoula the “Best Big Sky” town—pretty much the best town in Montana—for being a place where “loggers, guides, CSA-loving parents, ranchers, and University of Montana students all blend in together.” However, in 2080, the typical summer in Missoula would be almost 9 degrees warmer and almost 9 percent drier, putting it on par with the current climate of Lewiston, Idaho, where the biggest employer is a paper manufacturer.

Portland, Maine Will Be Baltimore, Maryland

Named the “Best Top-End Food in Zero-Degree Weather,” the typical winter in Portland would be almost a dozen degrees warmer, meaning there would be far less opportunity to enjoy that top-end food in that zero-degree weather.

In 2080, Portland’s climate would resemble that of Baltimore.

Santa Fe, New Mexico Is Now Clovis, New Mexico

The New Mexican capital was named our “Best Combination of Mountains and Margaritas” and is also the home of Outside (we like mountains and margaritas). Clovis, a small town near the state's eastern border, feels more like Texas than New Mexico. That's how the capital city would feel too with the typical summer projected to be 8 degrees warmer and over 14 percent wetter in 2080.   

Find Your Hometown’s Climate Analog

The researchers created the climate analogs for these 540 North American urban areas to “provide an intuitive means of raising public awareness of the implications of climate change.” In pursuit of that goal, they matched locations that would be accurate representations of the potential climate of the future for those places while also being potentially familiar to residents. So, the best way to make the data hit home is to find your town on this interactive map.