Looking for safe and effective sunscreen this year? You’ll need to look beyond the labels. Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group has released it’s 6th annual Sunscreen Guide. The good news is that things are looking up in regard to the availability of safer and more effective sunscreens. According to the study:
EWG recommends 1 in 4 of more than 800 beach and sport sunscreens, compared to 1 in 5 last year and 1 in 12 the year before.
- At our readers’ request, we added more baby and kids’ sunscreens to our database. As we analyzed their contents, we realized that more products made specifically for children use safe, effective ingredients, relative to sunscreens marketed for the general public. Boosting the number of baby and kids’ products increased the number of items we can recommend for everyone. BUT parents should use our database to check out individual products.
- One-fourth of the sunscreens we studied this year contain retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, compared to a third last year. Research by the federal Food and Drug Administration and National Toxicology Program suggests that this chemical may heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin. Until definitive research is available, EWG recommends that prudent consumers avoid vitamin A-laden sunscreens. We have pressed sunscreen makers to get it out of their products, with some success.
EWG has also created a helpful tool that allows you to search the guide or input your sunscreen and then receive feedback about its ratings.
A note about Baby & Kid’s Sunscreens
The EWG study says:
This year’s guide lists almost 180 baby and kids’ sunscreens, the most yet. The results are mixed:
Good news: Many brands formulate children’s sunscreens with safer, more effective ingredients than those in other products. About 63 percent of kids’ sunscreens contain effective mineral ingredients that provide good UVA protection, compared to 40 percent of other sunscreens.
Though you still need to read labels and use EWG’s Sunscreen Guide, chances are you’ll get a better sunscreen if you buy one marketed for kids.
Compared to other sunscreens, those with the words “baby,” “children” or “kids” in the product name are less likely to contain:
- Fragrances, which are mixtures of chemicals some of which may cause allergies and other serious health problems. Some 72 percent of kids’ sunscreens are fragrance-free, versus 54 percent of other sunscreens.
- Oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting chemical, is in 37 percent of kids’ sunscreens versus 56 percent of other sunscreens.
Not-so-good news: We uncovered 16 brands that list exactly the same ingredients in their children’s products as in their other products – down to the exact percentages of active ingredients. For these brands, including Banana Boat, Coppertone, Alba and ThinkBaby, the word “children” on the label may be just a marketing gimmick.
Keep in mind: Every year after the release of EWG’s sunscreen study, the internet is abubble with claims that EWG’s report is in error, that poorly rated sunscreens really do work, aren’t dangerous, etc. If you check the sources of these claims however, they almost always come from the sunscreen industry — either companies who manufacture the very sunscreens that were rated poorly or other businesses that have a vested interest in certain sunscreen products performing well in the market. As such, I tend not to trust these arguments. I will say that I am not a scientist and I am unable to break down EWG’s study to find gaps. I do believe, however, that the sunscreens they recommend are safe. While they are also expensive, I’m willing to err on the side of caution here. The primary method suggested by EWG for reducing harmful sun exposure is to cover up. Wear UV protective clothing, wear hats, stay out of the sun during peak daytime hours if you can.
Below you’ll find 12 of the less-expensive picks from EWG’s latest sunscreen recommendations.
Also, EWG has created a wallet card guide to this year’s best sunscreens. You can get the card here with your donation of $5 or more to the Enivronmental Working Group.
Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet