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About that New York Times sunscreen column. . .

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

sunscreen.jpgA recent New York Times column on sunscreen has been getting a lot of traction on the internet, and since it's partly about, um, us, we thought it was worth a response.

In the column, author Tara Parker Pope quotes Dr. Warwick L. Morison as saying of EWG, "What they are doing is developing their own system for evaluating things." He's right, to a degree, but the method we use is far from "arbitrary" as Morison suggests. In fact, our assessment is based on sunscreen industry data and other published studies on sun protection.

Morison doesn't mention that the Skin Cancer Foundation, where he sits as chairman of the Foundation's photobiology committee, also has their own system for evaluating sunscreens. Unfortunately, SCF's methods fall short. At a cost of $10,000 to the manufacturer, the Skin Cancer Foundation endorses sunscreen products based on an evaluation that fails to consider two critical factors: whether or not the product protects against UVA protection, and whether the ingredient soaks through the skin and raises health concerns. A quick scan of the sunscreens they endorse reveals several products that don't contain a single approved UVA-screening chemical -- including a product made specifically for kids. Did you catch that? The Skin Cancer Foundation actually endorses a children's sunscreen that provides completely insufficient protection from UVA rays.

As chair of the committee that heads up these assessments, Dr. Morison may not be paid for his work, but he might realize that the organization could be perceived as having a vested interest in defending the products they endorse. The Skin Cancer Foundation's limited and financially conflicted method does not protect consumers.

Our scientists go beyond these limited factors to assess if products provide full-spectrum UV protection, and if they end up in the body in significant amounts. We base our assessments not just on SPF ratings (UVB protection), but also on industry models of UVA protection and peer-reviewed scientific studies on exposures and health risks from sunscreen chemicals.

Dr. Morison's critique of EWG's methods would be more productively aimed at FDA, which has failed to finalize the sunscreen safety standards they began developing 30 years ago. Currently, sunscreens aren¹t required to protect from damaging UVA radiation, manufacturers can (and do) use misleading claims like "instant" and "all-day" and "waterproof" protection, and many brands contain chemicals that absorb through the skin into the blood, raising potential health concerns.

What it comes down to is this: not all sunscreens are the same. We highlight products the provide solid UVA and UVB protection without putting potentially toxic chemicals into the blood of people who use them. Oxybenzone is a chemical to avoid because there's clear evidence that it gets into our blood, and because there's some data implicating it in hormone disruption and UV-related damage. There are sunscreens on the market that offer better protection without all those health risks. Why on earth wouldn't we recommend them?

The Environmental Working Group recommends products that work without posing significant health concerns. The Skin Cancer Foundation and the FDA should ensure that they are doing the same. With more than a million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year, people can't afford to wait any longer.