Only 8 Percent of Sunscreens Recommended
Environmental Working Group News Release (5/10)
The fourth annual Sunscreen Guide by Environmental Working Group (EWG) gives low
marks to the current crop of sunscreen products, with a few notable exceptions.
EWG researchers recommend only 39, or 8 percent, of 500 beach and sport
sunscreens on the market this season.
The reason? A surge in exaggerated SPF claims (SPFs greater than 50) and recent
developments in understanding the possible hazards of some sunscreen
ingredients, in particular, new government data linking a form of vitamin A
used in sunscreens to accelerated growth of skin tumors and lesions.
Industry's lackluster performance and the federal Food and Drug Administration's
(FDA) failure to issue regulations for sunscreens lead EWG to warn consumers
not to depend on any sunscreen for primary protection from the sun's harmful
ultraviolet rays. Hats, clothing and shade are still the most reliable sun
Products with high SPF ratings sell a false sense of security because most
people using them stay out in the sun longer, still get burned (which increases
risk of skin cancer) and subject their skin to large amounts of UVA radiation,
the type of sunlight that does not burn but is believed responsible for
considerable skin damage and cancer. High SPF products, which protect against
sunburn, often provide very little protection against UVA radiation. Also, most
people don't get the high SPF they pay for: people apply about a quarter of the
recommended amount. In everyday practice, a product labeled SPF 100 really
performs like SPF 3.2, an SPF 30 rating equates to a 2.3 and an SPF 15
translates to 2.
"Many sunscreens available in the U.S. may be the equivalent of modern-day
snake oil, plying customers with claims of broad-spectrum protection but not
providing it, while exposing people to potentially hazardous chemicals that can
penetrate the skin into the body," said Jane Houlihan, EWG Senior Vice
President for Research. "When only 8 percent of sunscreens rate high for safety
and efficacy, it's clear that consumers concerned about protecting themselves
and their families are left with few good options."
This year, new concerns are being raised about a vitamin A compound called
retinyl palmitate, found in 41 percent of sunscreens. The FDA is investigating
whether this chemical, when applied to skin that is then exposed to sunlight,
may accelerate skin damage and elevate skin cancer risk. FDA data suggest that
vitamin A may be photocarcinogenic, meaning that in the presence of the sun's
ultraviolet rays, the compound and skin undergo complex biochemical changes
resulting in cancer. The evidence against vitamin A is not conclusive, but as
long as it is suspect, EWG recommends that consumers choose vitamin A-free
EWG has again flagged products with oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting compound
that penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream. Biomonitoring surveys
conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have detected
oxybenzone in the bodies of 97 percent of Americans tested.
In all, EWG researchers assessed 1,400 sunscreen products, including beach and
sports lotions, sprays and creams, moisturizers, make-up and lip balms. The 39
top beach and sports products that earned EWG's "green" rating all contain the
minerals zinc or titanium. EWG researchers were unable find any non-mineral
sunscreens that scored better than "yellow."
Some blame falls on the FDA, which has yet to finalize regulations for
sunscreens promised since 1978. FDA officials estimate that the regulations may
be issued next October but even then, they are expected to give manufacturers
at least a year, and possibly longer, to comply with the new rules. That means
the first federally regulated sunscreens won't go on store shelves before the
summer of 2012.
"Both world wars, the creation of Medicare and the planning and execution of the
moon landing combined took less time to achieve than FDA's promised sunscreen
regulations," said Houlihan. "Meanwhile, more than one million cases of skin
cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. This could be the poster child for
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the
power of information to protect human health and the environment. www.ewg.org