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EWG’s Sunscreen Guide

EWG’s Sunscreen Guide for 2015 – the 9th annual edition – finds persistent problems with the ingredients and marketing of sunscreens for the American market. Fully 80 percent of 1,700 products we examined this year offer inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone and vitamin A.

EWG’s Sunscreen Hall of Shame draws attention to products that promise safe sun protection and don’t deliver. This year, one brand stands out – Neutrogena.

Neutrogena’s advertising hype is further from reality than any other major brand we studied. It claims to be the “#1 dermatologist recommended suncare brand.” Yet all four products highlighted on Neutrogena’s suncare web page rate 7, in the red – worst – zone in our database. Neutrogena’s “Pure & Free Baby” sunscreen claims “special protection from the sun and irritating chemicals” and “hypoallergenic,” but it contains a preservative called methylisothiazolinone, or MI, that some researchers call a potent allergen and that is deemed unsafe in Europe.

Neutrogena boasts shamelessly sky-high SPF values. A dozen or so are labeled SPF 70; two claim SPF 100+ and one, SPF 110. The federal Food and Drug Administration says that SPF benefits max out at 50+ and wants to bar higher numbers, as the European Commission, Japan and Australia have done, but its proposed regulation, under fire from sunscreen manufacturers, has been stuck in bureaucratic limbo since 2007.

More than 80 percent of Neutrogena’s products contain oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting sunscreen filter, and one-third contain retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A linked to skin damage.

Neutrogena’s Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 70+ has several strikes against it. Its SPF is excessive. It is formulated with oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. It’s an aerosol spray, a delivery method that the FDA has cautioned may not be safe or effective. EWG agrees. Aerosolized droplets could push sunscreen chemicals deep into the lungs where they could irritate lung tissue or pass into the bloodstream. As well, the FDA says it lacks data to prove that sprays provide the necessary thick, even skin coverage on dry skin, let alone a wet kid.

While Neutrogena stands out for its ad hype, when it comes to poor product scores, it has plenty of company. Only 21 percent of the sunscreens, 19 percent of the moisturizers with SPF and 21 percent of the lip balms in EWG’s database for 2015 scored 1 or 2. Most major sunscreen brands, including Banana Boat, Coppertone and CVS, score poorly. EWG estimates that more than half of the sunscreens on the American market would not make it to store shelves in Europe.

How do you know which is which?

When you head outdoors this summer arm yourself with products from EWG’s Best Sunscreens, SPF-rated moisturizers and lip products.

Our report – 8 Little-Known Facts About Sunscreens shows how to read labels, identify potential hazards and avoid getting burned.

 

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About the ratings

EWG provides information on sunscreen products from the published scientific literature, to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government. The ratings indicate both efficacy and the relative level of concern posed by exposure to the ingredients in this product - not the product itself - compared to other sunscreens. The ratings reflect potential health hazards but do not account for the level of exposure or individual susceptibility, factors which determine actual health risks, if any. Learn more | Legal Disclaimer