Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

Photo by yamiq@Flickr.com

Photo by yamiq, under a Creative Commons license

Answer summer’s call to sun, surf, and sand, if you must, but remember to slather on the sunscreen, wherever you may roam, to ward off crispy bits, premature aging, and potential skin cancer caused by the sun’s UV rays.

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved new chemicals sunscreens since 1978, which means that the United States has at least 12 fewer approved—and possibly safer and more effective—sun-blocking ingredients than Europe does. (If you do some quick mental math, that means the FDA has been dawdling on this matter for the past 29 years; it made its last resolution back when the Internet was merely a gleam in Al Gore’s eye, Michael Jackson still looked human, and I was a mewling bairn whose only concern was making doodie.) At the same time, sunscreen products on the shelves go largely unregulated, says the Environmental Working Group, which analyzed the safety and effectiveness of more than 700 name-brand sunscreens.

The Washington, D.C.-based non-profit found that a staggering 84 percent of 785 sunscreen products (with an SPF rating of 15 or higher) offered inadequate protection from the sun’s rays or contained questionable ingredients. “Ironically, some popular sunscreen chemicals break down when exposed to sunlight and must be formulated with stabilizing chemicals,” says EWG, in a press release. “Others penetrate the skin and present significant health concerns.”

In fact, EWG found 50 percent of the products currently on the market to bear claims—such as “all day protection”, “mild as water,” and “blocks all harmful rays”—on their bottles that are “unacceptable” or misleading under the FDA’s draft sunscreen-safety standards. Because the FDA’s standards have not been finalized, however, companies are free to flout and hype up claims that have led to recent class-action lawsuits, involving major brands such as Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat, Bull Frog, and Neutrogena, in California, says EWG.

Of the 700-plus sunscreen products EWG scrutinized, it can recommend only 130. It promotes caution with 618 of the products and suggests outright avoiding 37 of them. (Learn more about the methodology used here.)

Check out EWG’s database of sunscreen products it rates the best or considers the worst. Or use its search tool to find out how your current sunscreen product rates. Plus, if you have to spend any amount of time outdoors, be sure to read these tips for both grownups and kids. Apply sunscreen early and apply often. Well, unless looking like freshly tanned leather (or Dina Lohan) is your thing—I don’t judge1.

1I will completely judge you.


  1. stephanie said,

    July 19, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you!

  2. this single spark said,

    July 19, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    Big hats, shady trees and a sunbrella. Oh ya, and being okay with looking pasty. Those are my non-sunscreen solutions.

    Also addicted to the Skin Deep website!

  3. peppylady said,

    July 20, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    I learn so much from your blog.

  4. Rose said,

    July 29, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks so much for posting this, however I can’t seem to link to the database. I suspect a conspiracy? Anyone else having trouble? I’d really like to see the information.

  5. The Worsted Witch » Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 25 Sunscreen/Active Lifestyles said,

    August 3, 2007 at 10:21 am

    [...] I’ve just run out of my old standby sunscreen from Paula’s Choice, which I’ve loved using because of its nongreasy, unscented, yet gently moisturizing formula—unfortunately, it hasn’t been rated by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). So when my husband called from the natural-foods store asking if I needed anything, I asked him to pick up some sunblock. But because I didn’t have EWG’s list handy (big mistake), after he prattled off some brands, I instantly clung on to a familiar name: Aubrey Organics, the brand I use for my shampoo. [...]

  6. michaelm said,

    August 3, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    The link I found the most helpful from their site was the corner of the Graphic on their Sunscreen Executive Report/ Summary Homepage that showed where “Most effective” and “Low Hazard” overlap. Here’s that link I rather wish they could make a best dozen/ worst dozen wallet insert like they do for pesticides in vegetables.

  7. HELIOLITH said,

    August 3, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Unsafe at any SPF: Sunscreens Uncovered…

    I’ve been using the Environmental Working Group’s new indispensible database that evaluated 785 name-brand sunscreen products that was made public in June 2007. [Press Release, Executive Summary, Best Products]
    My family is spending a …

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