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Americans buying popular sunscreens across the border, online

Robert Samuels Detroit Free Press

It’s in Canada. It’s on eBay. But it’s not at your local drugstore – and it’s not supposed to be.

The world’s most effective sunscreen is not available in the United States.

Dermatologists say that although most U.S. sunscreens are fine at blocking UVB rays, they don’t do such a good job at blocking UVA rays. Those that do block UVA rays contain the illegal but effective drug Mexoryl, which is on sale in Canada.

It can be found in two L’Oreal products: Ombrelle and the more expensive Anthelios.

Mexoryl protects the skin from ultraviolet-A rays that penetrate deep into the skin and cause wrinkles. A study by the American Academy of Dermatology in March 2001 also suggested a link between UVA rays and skin cancer.

Sunscreens with Mexoryl aren’t much more expensive than other sunscreens — a 120-ml bottle of Ombrelle, for instance, cost less than $14 on eBay.

Laura Alvey, an FDA spokeswoman, said recently she wasn’t allowed to comment on when the drug will be available in the United States. In the meantime, pharmacies in Windsor, Ontario, are seeing an increase in U.S. buyers as word of the drug spreads.

For at least eight years, certified beauty adviser Joanne Fletcher says she has seen customers cross the border to purchase bottles of Anthelios, which can range from $15 to $20 from a Shopper’s Drug Mart near the tunnel in Windsor.

“We usually get one or two a day,” Fletcher said. “On the weekends, maybe three or four. And we got quite a few on the Fourth of July.”

It’s not unusual for Americans to go over the border for drugs. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department estimates that 12 million Americans went to Canada last year to purchase cheaper prescription drugs.

The Canadian government, meanwhile, said recently it will consider new restrictions on selling prescription drugs to Americans, but it has not yet taken action.

Americans who have come to Canada looking for nonprescription sunscreen have usually heard about it from a dermatologist or friends, Fletcher said. And they are aware that U.S. sun-care products aren’t as effective in fighting UVA rays.

Approved U.S. drugs – zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and Parsol 1789 – don’t come close to blocking UVA as well as the L’Oreal products, according to Dallas-based Dr. Clay Cockerell, president of the American Academy of Dermatologists.

Sunscreens in the United States are more focused on blocking UVB rays, Cockerell said.

UVB rays cause sunburns and have a more established link to skin cancer. But even if a sunscreen label says it protects from a broad spectrum of sunrays and has a high Sun Protection Factor, Cockerell said the U.S. brands will not work as well.

Dr. Karen Chapel, a Dearborn, Mich., dermatologist, says she recommends using the legal sunscreens with some UVA protection provided by the ingredients zinc oxide or Parsol 1789, which will at least reflect the UVA rays.

What makes Mexoryl different is that it changes the chemicals within the skin, effectively forming a barrier to burning rays.

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