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About EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens

EWG published its first Guide to Sunscreens in 2007 to provide consumers with information about their sun protection products when the Food and Drug Administration failed to set modern safety standards for sunscreens. We created the guide so consumers wouldn’t have to sort through misleading market claims and complex ingredient lists to find products that provide the best protection and are free of concerning ingredients.

Through its research, EWG has discovered that products are not all the same when it comes to sun protection and ingredient health hazards.Some sunscreens have serious problems. We continue to voice our concerns to the FDA and push the agency to set standards that address these deficiencies. In the meantime, 

EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens aims to help consumers make informed choices and avoid sun damage and cancer.

Expert testimony

Debra Jaliman, M.D., board-certified dermatologist, New York

It is important people choose mineral sunscreen products that include zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide and come with a broad-spectrum label and an SPF between 30 and 50. These products do a good job of protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and have less concerns than chemical-based sunscreens, which can also irritate the skin and get absorbed into the body.

EWG’s guide provides consumers with a wide variety of mineral sunscreen products that are both effective and free of potentially harmful chemical ingredients.

Anat Lebow, M.D., board-certified dermatologist, Lebow Dermatology, New York

Sunscreen is an important line of defense from harmful ultraviolet radiation. To protect your skin, remember to reapply sunscreen every couple hours – especially after sweating, swimming or toweling off.

The sun protection factor, or SPF, provides information on how much UV radiation it takes to burn the skin, mostly describing ultraviolet B radiation. I recommend broad-band SPF protection that includes protection against the harmful UVA rays, as well.

Sunscreens with an SPF higher than 50 can mislead consumers into using less product or not applying it as often. Generously apply about a shot-glass-size amount of sunscreen to all exposed parts of your body, including ear lobes. And remember to follow the instructions on the label.

These products provide the most protection when combined with other forms of sun safety. Be sure to also cover exposed skin with clothing – wear a hat and sunglasses. Shade also adds to your defense – pack an umbrella as you head to the beach or picnic under a leafy tree.

Patricia Lucey, M.D., board-certified dermatologist, Virginia

As a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer, I inform my patients about the importance of sun protection. I often recommend mineral-based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to women of childbearing age, babies, children and those with sensitive skin, acne or rosacea. 

Chemical sunscreens have been known to be more irritating to sensitive or acne-prone skin, and studies have shown they can be absorbed systemically. While we wait for more studies to reveal what, if any, clinical significance this systemic absorption may have, I firmly believe that if people are concerned about possible toxicity, they should avoid certain chemical-based sunscreens.

I have relied on EWG’s ratings for years to help direct patients to personal care products like sunscreens and cosmetics that are safer for their bodies and the environment.   

Furthermore, with climate change and ozone destruction being a real and present danger, we are going to need to rely on more regular sunscreen use, with more frequent application, to protect our skin from harmful UV rays. That is why I appreciate EWG’s commitment to reporting on the most effective and safest sunscreens for not only the health of our bodies but also the health of our planet.