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The EWG Guide to Sunscreens rates the hazards and efficacy of recreational sunscreens, in addition to daily-use products and lip balms with sun protection factor, or SPF, ratings. We launched the guide in 2007, because the Food and Drug Administration had failed to set modern safety standards for sunscreens. Without EWG’s guide, consumers would have to sift through misleading market claims and complex ingredient lists to determine whether their favorite sunscreens would protect them from sun-related skin damage.
Through its research, EWG has discovered that products are not all the same when it comes to UV protection and ingredient hazards, and some sunscreens have serious problems. We continue to press the FDA to issue rules that address these deficiencies. In the meantime, EWG’s Sunscreen Guide aims to help consumers make good choices and avoid sun damage and cancer.
EWG assesses products based on ingredients disclosed on product labels. Each product is given a score, ranging from 1 to 10. The score reflects both the degree of protection from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and the hazards of all ingredients on the label. We base two-thirds of the overall score on a product’s ultraviolet, or UV, protection. One-third of the score reflects the hazard score, which is based on concerns about the listed ingredients’ toxicity.
On a product page you can see how a product scores on the basis of six criteria:
UV protection. A product’s ability to offer protection from UV rays is scored for four factors: UVB protection, UVA protection, UVA/UVB balance and sunscreen stability. Products are rated “excellent,” “good,” “moderate” or “poor” for each of these factors; ratings are based on the protection offered by the concentration of sunscreen ingredients listed on product labels.
|UVB PROTECTION (SPF)||LABELED SPF VALUE|
|UVA PROTECTION||EXCELLENT / GOOD / MODERATE / POOR|
|UVA/UVB BALANCE||EXCELLENT / GOOD / MODERATE / POOR|
|SUNSCREEN STABILITY||EXCELLENT / GOOD / MODERATE / POOR|
Health concerns. This score is based on all ingredients listed on the product label. Ingredients and products are rated according to EWG’s Skin Deep® cosmetics database’s ingredient hazard scores, described here
|HEALTH CONCERN||LOW / MODERATE / HIGH|
Other concerns. EWG has given additional weight in the overall product scores to factors that raise particular concerns:
Sunscreens with just one of these factors are rated no better than 3, or yellow, which indicates “moderate hazard.” Sunscreens with two or more significant concerns are rated no better than 7, or red, which indicates high hazard. Sunscreens with SPF concerns and ingredient hazards rate 10 in our database.
|OTHER CONCERNS||CONTAINS OXYBENZONE / CONTAINS VITAMIN A / MISLEADING SPF / SPRAY / POWDER|
The “data availability” rating measures how much is known about an ingredient. Not all ingredients are equal when it comes to hazard data. Some have been studied extensively. For others, there is only a modest volume of research. Some have not been tested at all.
Data availability rating: the scope of ingredient hazard data contained in Skin Deep®, and the number of studies available in the open scientific literature
A product’s low score on the hazard scale doesn’t mean much if scientists know very little about its contents. Your best bet? A doubly good score: low hazard rating and high data availability.
WHAT DOES THE EWG VERIFIED® SUNSCREEN MARK MEAN?
The EWG VERIFIED™ mark on a product indicates that the product meets EWG’s strictest standards for transparency and health.
✔ Avoids EWG’s Ingredients of concern. EWG VERIFIED products cannot contain any ingredients on EWG’s “Unacceptable” list, which includes ingredients with health, ecotoxicity and/or contamination concerns.
✔ Full transparency. EWG VERIFIED products must meet EWG’s standards for ingredient disclosure on the label; products with the VERIFIED mark are made by manufacturers that have been fully transparent with EWG about that product’s ingredients, including fragrance ingredients.
✔ Good manufacturing practices. EWG VERIFIED product manufacturers must develop and follow current good manufacturing practices to further ensure the safety of their products.
EWG VERIFIED Sunscreens also takes into account additional factors. Sunscreens that carry the mark cannot:
Read our methodology section for a complete description of our sunscreen ratings system.