Only 8% of All Sunscreens Recommended, Environmentalists Say

A major environmental organization said it can only recommend 8% of sunscreens currently on the market, primarily due to a surge in exaggerated SPF claims and the use of chemicals that could raise the risk of cancer. 

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its fourth annual Sunscreen Guide in late May, finding that it could only recommend 39 out of 500 beach and sport sunscreens currently on the market. EWG found that many had unsubstantiated claims of providing sun protection factors (SPF) of more than 50.

According to EWG’s findings, while many provide protection against sunburn, caused by ultraviolet-B radiation (UVB), they fail at actually protecting the skin against ultraviolet-A radiation (UVA), which does not burn, but also causes skin cancer. EWG also found that high SPF ratings are misleading to many people, who believe they are being protected from all kinds of skin damage caused by the Sun’s rays.

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“Many sunscreens available in the U.S. may be the equivalent of modern-day snake oil, plying customers with claims of broad-spectrum protection but not providing it, while exposing people to potentially hazardous chemicals that can penetrate the skin into the body,” Jane Houlihan, EWG Senior Vice President for Research said in a press release. “When only 8 percent of sunscreens rate high for safety and efficacy, it’s clear that consumers concerned about protecting themselves and their families are left with few good options.”

The EWG urged that consumers reapply sunscreen regularly, regardless of the SPF rating, and noted that none of the products equal the use of hats, clothing and shade as forms of protection.

One factor in the ratings this year was increasing concern about retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A compound used in about 41% of all sunscreens. The compound is currently under investigation by FDA for potentially increasing the risk of skin damage from the sun and skin cancer. While the FDA has not finished its determination, EWG is recommending that people avoid sunscreens that include retinyl palmitate as an ingredient, and factored that into their ratings.

Among the safest and most effective sunscreens, according to the EWG guide are products under the Badger, All Terrain, California Baby, UV Naturals, Soleo Organics and Caribbean Solutions labels and others. The EWG found them to provide good UVA protection without including vitamin A compounds or chemicals considered hormone disrupters. All are lotions, and none are in spray or powder form.

Included in the EWG’s sunscreen “hall of shame” are products under the Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic and Aveeno labels, which claim to provide high SPF protection, sometimes have harsh potential side effects, while claiming to be mild on the skin, and claim to have advanced UVA protection when they do not.

The EWG was also critical of the FDA, which has yet to promulgate sunscreen industry standards, despite having drafted rules for the industry which have gone unimplemented for 35 years.

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