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.