EWG Report: The Best & Worst Sunscreens for 2016
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit organization that raises public awareness about the toxins in our environment and in the everyday products we consume. They basically try to fill in a major informational gap left by the Food and Drug Administration with regards to public health and safety.
Evaluating personal care products and cosmetics has been a major focus of the EWG’s work. Their “Skin Deep” database has safety ratings for over 80,000 products, each with the list of the toxic (and potentially toxic) ingredients they contain.
Why is this necessary? Because personal care products are a highly unregulated industry. As I’ve pointed out before, the FDA has only banned about 11 chemicals for use in these products. To put that into perspective, the EU has banned over 1,000 chemicals. Not to mention that many product labels – organic, cruelty-free, all natural — are misleading or, at times, even downright meaningless because the FDA doesn’t regulate them.
So! What about sunscreen? Well for the last 10 years the EWG has come out with an annual guide to sun protection and the best and worst sunscreens.
Before we get into their report, it should perhaps be noted that the EWG calls sunscreen a “last resort” for sun protection. Given that many American sunscreens don’t adequately protect against UVA rays, we shouldn’t rely on them to prevent skin damage and cancer. So it’s always recommended to look for shade, stay out of the sun when it’s highest in the sky (mid-day into the afternoon), and lastly, what we don’t want to hear…wear clothes.
Since wearing clothes is out of the question (ha!) and most naturists crave sunshine and probably get more sun exposure than the average person, it’s time to talk nude sunbathing safety. Here are the main takeaways and guidance on sunscreen from the EWG report.
What To Watch Out For
1. High and Misleading SPF
We tend to think that the higher the SPF number is, the greater the sun protection. But that’s only true up to a point.
The EWG reports that sunscreens with SPF over 50 are misleading and cannot be relied upon for better coverage. At best, high-SPF products provide a tiny fraction more protection from UVB rays than lower SPFs. At worst, their true SPF is much lower than what’s stated on the bottle.
In addition, high-SPF sunscreens are so concentrated in UVB-blocking ingredients that they offer even less protection against UVA rays than lower-SPF products. (UVB rays cause immediate visible skin damage in the form of sunburn, but UVA generate the most free radicals and damage skin tissue on a deeper level. Both cause skin cancer.)
On a psychological level, high-SPF poses a health risk because of how it affects consumer behavior. People think they can be in the sun for much longer than they should be and end up with greater skin damage.
The bottom line: Even people with pale, sensitive skin can get sufficient protection from 30 – 50 SPF sunscreens.
(The FDA has acknowledged that high-SPF’s “may be inherently misleading,” but has yet to follow through on joining other industrialized nations in capping SPF’s at 50.)
2. Spray Sunscreens
Aerosol and spray-on sunscreens are popular because people find them convenient and quick to use.
However, there is currently not enough data showing that these products are safe and effective. The FDA agrees and requested better data from companies that would prove them to be so. Til then, the EWG recommends avoiding the spray-on stuff.
3. Ingredients to Avoid
For a product that we apply frequently to our entire bodies, we definitely need to be aware of harmful chemicals and ingredients in our sunscreens. Here are 2 important ones to watch out for:
• Retinyl Palmitate – This is a form of Vitamin A that’s been a common additive in sunscreens. Government testing showed that animals developed skin tumors and lesions when treated with this additive in sunlight. The EWG reports that far less sunscreen companies are using Vitamin A now due to these health concerns, but 16% of sunscreens they reviewed this year still had this ingredient.
• Oxybenzone – this chemical works as a UV filter, but according to EWG, it is a “hormone disruptor and allergen.” In 2015, Mother Jones also reported on new research that found oxybenzone can make coral more susceptible to bleaching. “The chemical deforms coral cells, damages their DNA, and most disturbing of all, disrupts coral larvae endocrine hormones causing baby coral to encase themselves in their own skeletons and die.”
Still, 70% of non-mineral sunscreens reviewed by EWG this year contained it.
What to Look For in a Good Sunscreen
- SPF 15-50
- Broad spectrum protection
- UVA and UVB-filtering ingredients like zinc oxide, avobenzone, and mexoryl SX.
- Titanium dioxide is also a “moderately effective” UVA-filtering ingredient, according to EWG
- Creams and lotions
- European sunscreens tend to have much better UVA protection because they can use ingredients not approved by the FDA yet in America.
*In 2011, the FDA ruled that companies can no longer label their sunscreens “waterproof” or “sweatproof” because these terms were inaccurate and misleading.
What to avoid: oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) and spray-on sunscreens.
Make Your Own Sunscreen
Before getting into the best sunscreen brands, I’d like to note that it is possible to make your own at home! Zinc oxide can be purchased online in a powder form that can be added to lotions or moisturizers. Find DIY instructions here.
The Best and Worst Beach & Sport Sunscreens
The EWG evaluated over 750 sunscreens in their 10th annual report. They rate them based on ingredients, UVA / UVB protection and stability (“how quickly an ingredient breaks down in the sun”). Each receives a score of 1-10, 1 being the best.
Below is a list of a few top sunscreens that scored a 1 for having safe ingredients (based on current data) and good UV protection. About 60 brands scored a 1 or 2. You can see the entire list of the best sunscreens on the EWG website.
A Few Top Sunscreens:
-Adorable Baby Sunscreen Lotion or Stick, SPF 30+
–Jersey Shore Cosmetics Anti-Aging Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 35
–Kabana Organic Skincare Green D Sunscreen, Original, SPF 35
–Loving Naturals Sunscreen Clear Body or Clear Defense, SPF 30+
–Tropical Sands Sunscreen, SPF 50
–True Natural: All Natural Sunscreen, Neutral for Sensitive Skin, SPF 50 and Ultra Protect 50 Antioxidant Sunscreen Natural Coconut, SPF 50
Some other brands with products that scored 1-2:
-Attitude Little Ones
-Bare Belly Organics
-Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen
-Kiss My Face
The Overall Worst-Rated Sunscreens
-Sun Bum Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70
-Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen, SPF 60+
-Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 60+
-CVS Sensitive Skin Sun Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 60
-Banana Boat Ultra Defense Max Skin Protect Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100
-Banana Boat Sport Performance Sunscreen, SPF 100, in lotion or spray form
-Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen, SPF 100, in lotion or spray form
-EltaMD UV Aero Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 45
-Well at Walgreens Clear Zinc Sunscreen Stick, SPF 50
Best Sunscreens For Kids
-Adorable Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
-All Good Kid’s Sunscreen, SPF 33
-All Terrain KidSport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
-ATTITUDE Little Ones 100% Mineral Sunscreen, Fragrance Free, SPF 30
-babyhampton beach*bum sunscreen, SPF 30
-Badger Kids Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30
-Bare Belly Organics Baby Sunscreen, SPF 30
-Belly Buttons & Babies Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
-Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Baby, SPF 30+
-BurnOut Kids Physical Sunscreen, SPF 35
-California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen, SPF 30+
-COOLA Suncare Baby Mineral Sunscreen Unscented Moisturizer, SPF 50
-Goddess Garden Kids Sport Natural Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
-Hampton Sun Sunscreen Lotion For Baby, SPF 45
-Jersey Kids Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
-Kiss My Face Organics Kids Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
-Nurture My Body Baby Organic Sunscreen, SPF 32
-Substance Baby Natural Sun Care Creme, SPF 30
-Sunology Natural Sunscreen, Kids, SPF 50
-Sunumbra Sunkids Natural Sunscreen, SPF 40
-Thinksport for Kids Sunscreen, SPF 50+
-TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Worst Sunscreens For Kids
-Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100
-Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
-Coppertone Sunscreen Continuous Spray, Kids, SPF 70
-Coppertone Sunscreen Lotion Kids, SPF 70+
-Coppertone Foaming Lotion Sunscreen Kids Wacky Foam, SPF 70+
-Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70+
-CVS Baby Sunstick Sunscreen, SPF 55
-CVS Kids Wet & Dry Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70+
-Equate Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
-Hampton Sun Continuous Mist Sunscreen For Kids, SPF 70
-Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70+
-Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 70+
-Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55