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2011 Sunscreen Database Profiles 1,700 Products

(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Monday, May 23, 2011

Washington, D.C. – Consumers can trust a slim 20 percent of the beach and sport sunscreens assessed for the 2011 sun season, according to Environmental Working Group’s survey of over 1,700 sun products.

In the wild west of sunscreens, sun-seekers are still faced with shelves filled with problematic ingredients, unsubstantiated marketing claims and lack-luster protection – three out of five sunscreens offer inadequate UVA protection.

The fugitive ingredients that have successfully skipped any federal criticism from the lethargic Food and Drug Administration, tasked with overseeing the safety of personal products, still saturate the market, putting children, teens and adults at potential risk for endocrine disruption and even expedited skin tumor developments.

This has been the case for 32 years and counting, since 1978 when the FDA first declared its intentions to regulate these necessary products. EWG’s sunscreen database remains the go-to source for consumers interested in seeing how adequately their products protect them from both UVA and UVB rays, and if they contain hazardous ingredients.

FDA has even been slow to address concerns on a common vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, used in about 30 percent of the sunscreens in the database.

“FDA neglect has allowed the proliferation of overstated safety claims, misleading SPF values and the use of phototoxic ingredients,” EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder, MPH said. “Without firm guidelines consumers only have a 1 in 5 chance of picking a safe and effective sunscreen from store shelves."

“You shouldn’t need to be a doctor to determine if your sunscreen is safe and effective. For too long the FDA has allowed manufacturers to get away with inaccurate claims about sun protection, and consumers are getting burned. It is time to impose sunscreen safety and labeling standards,” said United States Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who will introduce this week the Sunscreen Labeling Protection (or SUN) Act.

FDA has been considering strengthening sunscreen labels since 1978 and released a proposed rule to regulate the industry in August of 2007. Reed’s bill would give the FDA 180 days to finalize and implement new rules making sunscreen labels more clear and accurate about their rate of protection against the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. EWG presidentKen Cook wrote to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg urging her to issue the FDA's over-the-counter sunscreen regulations.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) has advocated for the FDA to finalize their sunscreen monograph. Previous drafts from the agency show it would require companies to prove UVA protection and substantiate marketing claims.

“Consumers deserve to have the most accurate and comprehensive information available about the protection sunscreens offer against potentially dangerous ultraviolet rays,” said Congresswoman Lowey. “That is why I continue urging FDA to require disclosure of protection that sunscreens offer against not just sunburn-causing UVB rays, but also skin cancer-causing UVA rays. I commend Environmental Working Group (EWG) for its continued efforts to keep consumers educated and safe about the potential dangers of inadequate sun protection.”

EWG’s website offers general tips for sunscreen shopping and safe sun enjoyment, including:

  • • Look for mineral protection from zinc oxide or titanium dioxide
  • • Avoid oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (sometimes listed as vitamin A)
  • • Pick creams and lotions over sprays and powders
  • • Try to physically block the sun with protective clothing, sunglasses and hats
  • • Minimize sun exposure from 10:00 to 4:00 when rays are strongest
  • • Reapply sunscreens at least every two hours, or after getting wet or sweaty

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org