EWG Report: The Best & Worst Sunscreens Updated for 2017
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 11 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, 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. Based on EWG reports, fewer and fewer sunscreen companies are using Vitamin A now due to these health concerns. Fourteen percent of sunscreens they reviewed this year had this ingredient (16% of last year’s products had it).
• 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.”
In 2016, 70% of non-mineral sunscreens reviewed by EWG contained oxybenzone. This year it was about 66% but the number of evaluated products also went up, so it isn’t much better.
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 850 sunscreens in their 11th 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, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst.
Of those evaluated, 241 sunscreen products made by about 100 different companies got a score of 1 or 2. 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. 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+
–Dr. Mercola Sunscreen, SPF 50
–Jersey Shore Cosmetics Anti-Aging Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 35
–Kabana Organic Skincare Green Screen D Sunscreen, Original, SPF 35
–Loving Naturals Sunscreen Clear Body or Stick, 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
–Waxhead Sun Defense Zinc Oxide Vitamin D Enhanced Sunscreen, SPF 35 (and other products)
–Adult Male Human AMH Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
–All Good Coconut Sunstick SPF 30; Sport Sunscreen SPF 30 and other products
Here are some top sunscreen brands that make several products scoring a 1 or 2:
-Attitude Little Ones
-Bare Belly Organics
-Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen
-Kiss My Face
-Raw Elements USA
The Overall Worst-Rated Sunscreens
Scored a 10 (the worst rating on 1-10 scale):
-Panama Jack Sport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 85
-Neutrogena Age Shield Face Oil-Free Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 110
-Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen, SPF 60+
-Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen, SPF 100
-GM Collin Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 60
-Banana Boat: Basically any BB product with SPF 100 but considering most of their sunscreens were poorly rated (5-10), I’d avoid this brand entirely.
Scored a 7:
-Zo Skin Health Oclipse Sun Spray, SPF 50
-Yon-ka Paris Solar Care Sunscreen Cream, SPF 50
-Well at Walgreens Sunscreen, Sport, SPF 70
-Well at Walgreens Sunscreen Sport Continuous Spray, SPF 50 or SPF 30
-Well at Walgreens Moisturizing Sunscreen Continuous Spray, SPF 50
Best Sunscreens For Kids
-Adorable Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30+
-All Good Kid’s Sunscreen, SPF 30
-All Terrain KidSport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
-Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 50
-Babytime! by Episencial Sunny Sunscreen, SPF 35
-Badger Baby Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30
-Bare Republic Baby Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
-Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Baby, SPF 30+
-BurnOut KIDS Sunscreen, SPF 35
-California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen, SPF 30+
-Caribbean Sol Sol Kid Kare, SPF 30
-Goddess Garden Organics Baby Natural Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
-Kiss My Face Organics Kids Sunscreen, SPF 30
-Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 50
-Sunology Natural Sunscreen Kids, SPF 50
-Sunumbra Sunkids Natural Sunscreen, SPF 40
-ThinkSport Kids Sunscreen, SPF 50+
-Tom’s of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
-TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30
Worst Sunscreens For Kids
-Banana Boat Kids Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100
-Banana Boat Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100
-Coppertone Foaming Lotion Sunscreen Kids Wacky Foam, SPF 70
-Coppertone Sunscreen Continuous Spray Kids, SPF 70
-Coppertone Sunscreen Lotion Kids, SPF 70
-Coppertone Sunscreen Lotion Water Babies, SPF 70+
-Coppertone Sunscreen Stick Kids, SPF 55
-Coppertone Sunscreen Stick Water Babies, SPF 55
-Coppertone Sunscreen Water Babies Foaming Lotion, SPF 70
-CVS Health Children’s Sunstick Sunscreen, SPF 55
-Equate Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70
-Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 60+
-Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70+
-Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Sticks, SPF 55