Only 1 in 4 sunscreens deemed safe by EWG, offering balanced UVA and UVB protection

Annual sunscreen guide assesses almost 1,700 SPF products sold in the U.S.

WASHINGTON – Today the Environmental Working Group released its 2024 Guide to Sunscreens, revealing that a staggering three-quarters of almost 1,700 SPF products evaluated fall short of adequate sun protection, with many still containing ingredients that could pose health risks.

“Consumers deserve better,” said Emily Spilman, a program manager for Healthy Living Science at EWG. “Many of the products we reviewed don’t offer balanced UVA and UVB protection.

“And some ingredients commonly found in sunscreens have been linked to both human and environmental concerns. But they’re still widely used in hundreds of products, even though they have not been tested adequately for safety. Its outrageous that shoppers may be slathering these potentially harmful chemicals on their skin every day without the reassurance of those safety tests,” said Spilman.

The Food and Drug Administration has asked sunscreen manufacturers for more safety data about the non-mineral filters in sunscreens. Its been more than two decades since the FDA approved a new active ingredient for use in SPF products, which leaves U.S. consumers behind in the global sunscreen innovation race.

“The rest of the world is light years ahead in sunscreen innovation, leaving American consumers behind,” said Homer Swei, Ph.D., EWG’s senior vice president of Healthy Living Science. “We need 21st century FDA regulations to ensure the safety of sunscreen products.

“Companies have repeatedly ignored their responsibility to provide essential safety studies to the FDA. And with the FDA constantly shifting its deadlines, the industry is stuck in regulatory limbo, leaving consumers in the dark about the risks they might be taking,” said Swei.

Since the launch of the first Guide to Sunscreens in 2007 EWG has urged the FDA to review sunscreen ingredients. 

EWG’s comprehensive guide evaluates the safety and effectiveness of various sun protection products included in lists of top-rated recreational sunscreens, SPF products marketed for babies and children, daily-use moisturizers with SPF and lip balms with SPF.  

Most top-rated sunscreens identified by EWG contain zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both – ingredients that offer excellent sun protection with fewer health concerns. Zinc oxide, for instance, provides stable protection from both UVA and UVB rays, offering broad-spectrum protection. 

“Fortunately for consumers, 235 sunscreens meet our rigorous standards,” said Spilman. “And we now have 51 EWG Verified® sunscreens.

“And this year we’ve added search filters to help consumers find products that meet their preferences while offering adequate protection without potentially harmful ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate and ‘fragrance,’” said Spilman. 

FDA lagging behind

Currently, the FDA has proposed that just two substances are generally recognized as safe and effective for sunscreens, while the European Union boasts more than 30.

The lack of new FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients is a growing concern. The agency needs to ensure U.S. consumers have access to the safest sunscreen options. Because of tighter regulations in this country, it’s challenging to get new ingredients approved.

The 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, better known as the CARES Act, changed the approval process for over-the-counter drugs. In 2021, the FDA again proposed updates to sunscreen regulations, yet crucial safety measures have still not been implemented. Other deadlines were set as recently as February 2024.  

The sunscreen industry has failed to provide the FDA with sufficient safety data about the other active ingredients to safely allow their use in SPF products. 

EWG leads the way

In 2023, EWG set a new gold standard for sunscreen safety with the introduction of EWG Verified sunscreens, ensuring consumers can easily find the healthiest and safest products to protect their skin from sun damage. These products are free from harmful chemicals and provide unparalleled transparency.

“EWG Verified sunscreens offer consumers peace of mind while the FDA drags its feet,” said Swei. “By searching for the mark on packaging and on the product website, consumers can easily find products that offer adequate protection without harmful ingredients.”

This group of products is part of EWG’s commitment to addressing ongoing concerns about sunscreen effectiveness in the U.S. market. By choosing products with the mark, consumers can trust that their sunscreen has been rigorously evaluated by EWG and backed by its decades of expertise in consumer product safety.

These sunscreens go beyond U.S. and European standards for UVA protection, ensuring consumers are shielded from the sun’s most damaging rays. To get the mark, they must also fully disclose all ingredients and avoid those with health, toxicity and contamination concerns.

EWG Verified sunscreens must also meet additional criteria: 

  • Score green in Skin Deep®.
  • Formulated as a cream or lotion, not aerosol or powder, because of inhalation risks. 
  • Offer an SPF value between 15 and 50.

Sun safety tips

Sunscreen is only one tool in the sun safety toolbox. It can help protect the skin from sun damage but should never be a person’s only line of defense.

Comprehensive sun protection includes protective clothing, like a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV protection, and shade.

Here are more tips for choosing better sunscreens and staying safe in the sun:

  • Steer clear of sunscreens with SPF values above 50+, which may not provide balanced UVA and UVB protection and can fool people into thinking they’re safe from sun damage.
  • Choose lotions and sticks over sprays. These popular products make it difficult to apply an adequate and even coating on skin, especially in windy conditions. They also pose inhalation concerns.
  • Avoid intense sun exposure during peak hours for sun exposure, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Check products against EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens and avoid those made with harmful chemicals. 

Shoppers on the go can download EWG’s Healthy Living App to get ratings and safety information on sunscreens and other personal care products.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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