EWG’s 6th annual Sunscreen Guide rates 257 brands and more than 1,800 products for sun protection.* The highlights:
EWG recommends 1 in 4 of more than 800 beach and sport sunscreens, compared to 1 in 5 last year and 1 in 12 the year before.
On June 17, 2011, 34 years after launching its effort to regulate the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens, the U.S. Food and Drug issued legally binding rules governing how these products are marketed. On May 11, 2012, weeks before the rules were to go into effect, the FDA announced yet another delay, pushing the effective date back six months to mid-December 2012. Most importantly, the rules will bar use of the term “broad spectrum” for products that do not meet a government test for protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
Even after the new rules are effective the most serious gaps in consumer safety will remain:
This year’s guide lists almost 180 baby and kids’ sunscreens, the most yet. The results are mixed:
Good news: Many brands formulate children’s sunscreens with safer, more effective ingredients than those in other products. About 63 percent of kids’ sunscreens contain effective mineral ingredients that provide good UVA protection, compared to 40 percent of other sunscreens.
Though you still need to read labels and use EWG’s Sunscreen Guide, chances are you’ll get a better sunscreen if you buy one marketed for kids.
Compared to other sunscreens, those with the words “baby,” “children” or “kids” in the product name are less likely to contain:
Not-so-good news: We uncovered 16 brands that list exactly the same ingredients in their children’s products as in their other products – down to the exact percentages of active ingredients. For these brands, including Banana Boat, Coppertone, Alba and ThinkBaby, the word “children” on the label may be just a marketing gimmick.
Mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens are gaining traction in the marketplace. We found 94 brands, including CVS, Neutrogena, Banana Boat, Walgreens and Aveeno, that now offer a mineral-only sunscreen option, up slightly from about 90 brands last year.
These are the right choices for children, people with sensitive skin and others who want the best UVA protection without potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone, used in nearly every non-mineral sunscreen. EWG recommended products that do not include vitamin A and are not sprays or powders, which provide uneven coverage and pose inhalation dangers.
For people who don’t want to use mineral sunscreens we recommend 23 non-mineral sunscreens with good sun protection and moderate hazard scores.
EWG’s analysis of more than 800 beach and sport sunscreens with SPF ratings of 15 and higher finds that many provide inadequate UVA protection and are too weak for the European market, where manufacturers voluntarily comply with a standard for broad spectrum protection.
We found 56 beach and sport sunscreens that do not contain any of the active ingredients known to protect against UVA rays. More than half of all sunscreens by Panama Jack and Australia Gold were in this category.
Almost 90 percent of all sunscreens are likely to pass FDA’s new rule for broad spectrum protection. If they do, they could legally claim they prevent skin cancer. The evidence to back up this claim is weak.
Many lip balms, daily moisturizers and make-up with SPF values provide less than ideal sun protection. EWG recommends just 9 percent of lip balms, 7 percent of makeups and 9 percent of daily moisturizers with SPF. These products tend to rate poorer for UVA protection and to contain skin-damaging vitamin A. What’s worse, consumers rarely reapply these products every two hours, which is necessary for protection, since sunscreens break down or wear off over time. Do not rely on makeup or face cream for lasting sun protection!
* Statistics throughout this report are based on products in the EWG database as of May 2012.