EWG's Guide to Safer Sunscreens (2022)

EWG's Guide to Safer Sunscreens (1)

Most consumers choose a sunscreen product based on its sun protection factor, or SPF, often reaching for those with high SPF value, assuming they offer the best protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet, or UV, rays. But that is often far from the truth.

(Video) EWG's Guide to Sunscreens: Q&A with Carla Burns - Part 1

SPF values are an unreliable measure of a sunscreen’s effectiveness. A good one should provide equal broad-spectrum protection, protecting against both UVA and UVB rays. But the SPF value reflects only how well a product will protect from UVB rays, the main cause of sunburn and non-melanoma skin cancers, such as squamous cell carcinoma (von Thaler 2010).

Reducing sunburn was the original intent of sun protection products, but it is now known that some UV rays don’t cause sunburn and instead lead to other health harms. SPF values do not reflect a product’s ability to protect from UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and are associated with skin aging and cancer.

SPF values are also unreliable because the test method companies must use to determine a product’s SPF value is imprecise. It requires someone to determine a change in the skin redness of a small handful of human participants exposed to UV light in a lab. These results may differ based on the evaluator, testing instrumentation or participant skin type. And SPF testing conditions used for labeling significantly overestimate the protection provided in use outdoors.

In the past decade, EWG has tested products and reviewed the results of various studies to verify the sun protection performance of U.S. sunscreen products, however, the available data doesn’t provide confidence that SPF values alone are an accurate measure of protection. Independent testing has revealed a lot about the shortcomings of the FDA’s current requirements for UVA protection from sunscreens.

(Video) EWG's Guide to Sunscreens: Q&A with Carla Burns - Part 3

An EWG peer-reviewed study published in Photodermatology Photoimmunology and Photomedicine found a number of sunscreens sold in the U.S. provide inadequate UVA protection, compared to what the listed SPF would indicate, which gives sunscreen users a false sense of protection. A total of 51 sunscreen products were tested for UV-absorption in a laboratory using in vitro methodologies, and results showed that, on average, products reduced the UVA exposure by only half of what would be expected.Just 18 of 51 products passed the UVA protection test required of products sold in Europe. Given EWG’s findings, consumers should assume many sunscreen products on the market offer lower balanced UVA/UVB protection. We found the UVA protection factor was only a quarter of the labeled SPF, on average.

Most sunscreens tested by EWG also failed to show reliable UVB protection. Our research found that most sunscreens provided just 42 to 59 percent of the UVB protection that might reasonably be expected from the SPF label. U.S. sunscreens had higher labeled SPF values than tests would suggest, in addition to inadequate UVA protection, leaving consumers at potential risk for long-term harm from UV exposure.

Many products tested would not meet the UVA standards set by the European Commission for products sold in Europe. The European Commission recommends sunscreen products’ ratio of UVA protection to SPF be at least one-third. But only about a third of the products tested passed the EU standard, whereas more than nine out of 10 – 94 percent – would get the green light from the Food and Drug Administration.

Test results by the FDA published in 2020 found significant differences in UVA protection among products with the same SPF. Despite the FDA’s awareness of large differences in UVA protection and the connection between UVA exposure and skin cancer, the agency has yet to strengthen the required UVA protection of SPF products. The FDA proposed new rules in 2021 that would require a slightly increased minimum level of UVA protection, but the rules are not yet in place, nor are they strong enough to ensure adequate UVA protection.

(Video) EWG's Guide to Sunscreens: Q&A with Carla Burns - Part 2

What’s wrong with high SPF

Sunscreen products with SPF values above 50+ tend to give users a false sense of security. They not only overpromise protection but may also overexpose consumers to UVA rays and raise their risk of cancer, according to the FDA. Many studies have found that people are more likely to use high SPF products improperly and, as a result, may expose themselves to more harmful ultraviolet radiation than do people who rely on products with lower SPF values.

People trust these high SPF products too much. There are four strikes against SPF values greater than 50+. They include:

  1. Poor balance. A sunscreen’s SPF rating has little to do with its capacity to shield the skin from UVA rays. As SPF increases, the ratio of UVA protection decreases. High SPF products suppress sunburn much more effectively than protect from UVA-induced damage, such as suppression of the immune system, formation of harmful free radicals in skin, and development of melanoma. As a result of inadequate UVA standards and limited options for providing UVA protection, U.S. sunscreens offer far less protection against UVA than UVB rays, and this is worse for products with the highest SPF values.
  2. Consumers misuse high SPF products. High SPF products tend to lull users into a false sense of security, so they stay in the sun longer and overexpose themselves to both UVA and UVB rays well past the point when users of low SPF products would head indoors. As a result, they get as many UVB-inflicted sunburns as unprotected sunbathers and are likely to absorb more damaging UVA radiation.

Philippe Autier, a scientist formerly at the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, has conducted many studies of sunbathers and believes that high SPF products spur “profound changes in sun behavior” that may account for the increased melanoma risk found in some studies. In two studies, Autier confirmed that European vacationers spent more total time in the sun if they were given an SPF 30 instead of SPF 10 sunscreen (Autier 1999, 2000). We assume the difference would also apply to products with SPF values greater than 50.

  1. Sunburn protection is only marginally better. Sunbathers often assume they get twice as much protection from SPF 100 sunscreen as from SPF 50. But the extra protection is negligible. Properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98 percent of UVB rays; SPF 100 blocks 99 percent. When used correctly, sunscreen with SPF values between 30 and 50 offers adequate sunburn protection, even for people most sensitive to sunburn.
  2. High SPF products may pose greater health risks. High SPF products require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals than low SPF sunscreens do. Some of these ingredients may pose health risks when they penetrate the skin and have been linked to tissue damage and potential hormone disruption. Some may trigger allergic skin reactions. If studies showed that high SPF products were better at reducing skin damage and skin cancer risk, the extra chemical exposure might be justified. But they don’t, so choosing sunscreens with lower concentrations of active ingredients – SPF 30 instead of SPF 70, for example – is prudent.

The FDA has long contended that SPF higher than 50 is “inherently misleading” (FDA 2007). SPF values are limited to 50+ in most countires. In 2011, the FDA proposed prohibiting labels higher than SPF 50+. But in its final draft sunscreen rule, published in 2021, the agency proposed raising the cap to 60+. EWG believes the FDA should reconsider this change and instead cap values at 50+.

(Video) EWG Sunscreen Guide

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FAQs

What is the safest sunscreen ingredient? ›

For now, if you are concerned about health effects, the safest choice is a so-called “mineral” or “physical” sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, dermatologists say. Those are only sunscreen ingredients that the FDA says are “generally recognized as safe and effective.”

What is the best sunscreen on the market? ›

  • Best Sunscreen Overall: CeraVe Hydrating Sunscreen Body Lotion SPF 50.
  • Best Face Sunscreen: EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen SPF 46.
  • Best Sunscreen For Sensitive Skin: Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30.
  • Best Mineral Sunscreen: Pipette Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50.
23 Jun 2022

Should I avoid oxybenzone? ›

Oxybenzone is one of the common active ingredients in sunscreens that are sold in the US. The FDA says it is safe. But some environmental and health groups single out oxybenzone as potentially unsafe for some people and the environment. This is because some studies have shown oxybenzone can cause skin allergies.

Which sunscreen is best mineral or chemical? ›

"A mineral sunscreen is so much better for your skin," Christenson adds. They're also safer for marine life, including fish and coral reef. "From an environmental lens, I like to remind people that chemical sunscreens aren't reef-safe and are known to be harmful to many types of marine life," adds Christenson.

Which sunscreens have no carcinogens? ›

The Best Non-Toxic Sunscreens of 2020
  • Supergoop! Glowscreen Sunscreen SPF 40. ...
  • Coola. Organic Sun Silk Drops SPF 30. ...
  • Ren Clean Skincare. Clean Screen Mattifying Face Sunscreen SPF 30. ...
  • Biossance. Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30. ...
  • Drunk Elephant. Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30. ...
  • Supergoop!
30 May 2020

How do I choose the right sunscreen for my skin? ›

For Normal Skin

The ones who have normal skin can use any high quality sunscreen that protects you against both UVA and UVB. If you have fair skin tone, use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a higher SPF content. While an SPF 30 is the minimal level recommended, opt for an SPF of 50+.

Does sunscreen have side effects? ›

Some sunscreen products (such as those containing aminobenzoic acid or para-aminobenzoic acid/PABA) may stain clothing. Some ingredients of sunscreens can cause the skin to become more sensitive. If a sunscreen causes redness or irritation, wash it off and stop using it.

What is the best sunscreen in 2022? ›

The best sunscreen options for summer 2022
  • Supergoop Play Everyday lotion, SPF 50 (5.5 oz.), ...
  • Vacation Classic Spray, SPF 30 (6.0 oz.), ...
  • Tula Protect + Glow, SPF 30 (1.7 oz.), ...
  • Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch, SPF 30 (8.0 oz.), ...
  • Tula Protect + Glow, SPF 30 (1.7 oz.), ...
  • Supergoop Play Everyday sunscreen lotion, SPF 50 (5.5 oz.),
27 Jun 2022

What sunscreen should I use everyday? ›

For day-to-day use, pick a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. If you spend time outdoors, choose a product with SPF 60 or greater. In reality, most people do not use as much sunscreen as they should, and this higher SPF helps compensate for the reduced application.

What is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock? ›

Sunscreen is white but is absorbed into the skin when applied and becomes transparent. When purchasing a sunscreen, check to see if it covers both UV-A and UV-B rays. Most sunscreens only cover UV-B rays. Sunblock physically blocks the sun's UV rays from penetrating the skin, acting as a barrier.

Is SPF 30 or 50 better for face? ›

By Karl Roos - January 12, 2020. "Properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98 percent of UVB rays, while an SPF 30 sunscreen blocks 97 percent of sunburn rays – the difference being one percentage point."

What is chemical free sunscreen? ›

Chemical-free sunscreens are sunscreens that contain only natural UV filters. There are only two around: Titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide.

What are the worst sunscreens? ›

Most Toxic Sunscreens to Avoid
  • Walgreens Dry Touch Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100.
  • Panama Jack Sunscreen Continuous Spray, SPF 100.
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 85+
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100+
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Spray, SPF 100+
5 May 2022

What is the most important ingredient in sunscreen? ›

Oxybenzone, often found in broad-spectrum sunscreens, helps filter both UVB and UVA rays (specifically short UVA). It's also one of the most popular ingredients, found in the majority of sunscreens in the U.S. market and can make up to 6 percent of the bottle.

Is there a natural sunscreen? ›

Natural sunscreen is also known as mineral or physical sunscreen because it uses zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or a combination of the two to block and reflect the sun's harmful rays away from your skin.

How long does oxybenzone stay in your body? ›

Three of the ingredients remained in the bloodstream for seven days. For oxybenzone, which has been found along with other sunscreen ingredients in breast milk, plasma concentrations reached the threshold within two hours after a single application and exceeded 20 ng/mL on day 7 of the study.

Does Neutrogena have oxybenzone? ›

Harmful chemicals and preservatives

EWG states 80 per cent of Neutrogena sunscreens contain oxybenzone, “a hormone-disrupting sunscreen filter” and 33 per cent contain retinyl palmitate, “a form of vitamin A linked to skin damage”.

Is avobenzone safer than oxybenzone? ›

The key difference between oxybenzone and avobenzone is that oxybenzone is safe to be used in sunscreen that is applied on human skin, whereas avobenzone is not safe to be used in sunscreen because it can degrade in the sun and produce harmful radicals.

Do dermatologists recommend physical or chemical sunscreen? ›

As board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelmansees it, neither mineral nor chemical sunscreen is perfect. That's why she recommends both types to her patients.

Which is safer chemical or physical sunscreen? ›

“[Mineral sunscreens] are much safer for people who are concerned about long-term exposure to chemical ingredients,” Ploch says.

Should you put chemical sunscreen on before or after moisturizer? ›

If you're using a chemical sunscreen, it needs to be applied first. This is because chemical sunscreen needs to penetrate the skin in order to provide protection. However, if you're using a physical sunscreen (also known as mineral sunscreen), sunscreen should be applied after moisturizer.

Why does my skin burn when I apply sunscreen? ›

In some people, there is an interaction between a sunscreen ingredient and UV light which leads to a skin reaction. This is usually a result of an allergy to the active ingredients, but it can also be due to a reaction to the fragrances or preservatives in the product.

Why does sunscreen irritate my skin? ›

The flaring is typically caused by an ingredient that takes longer for the skin to absorb. “Allergic reactions to sunscreen are rare and typically occur within a few hours or days,” said Dr. Yu. “The most common allergens are usually the inactive ingredients such as fragrances and preservatives.

Why does my face sting when I apply sunscreen? ›

In literature, Avobenzone is named culprit number 1 for stinging, burning or watering eyes. But other chemical filters can cause that as well. If your sunscreen is fragranced, applying it close to the eye area can also trigger a reaction.

What sunscreens do not contain oxybenzone and Octinoxate? ›

My 5 Recommended Sunscreens (Without Oxybenzone & Octinoxate)
  • Paula's Choice – RESIST Wrinkle Defense SPF 30.
  • Paula's Choice – DEFENSE Essential Glow Mineral Moisturizer SPF 30.
  • Purito – Centella Green Level Unscented Sun SPF50+PA++++
  • Elta MD – Physical Tinted Face Sunscreen SPF41.
  • Supergoop – Glowscreen SPF40.

Is zinc oxide the safest sunscreen? ›

It's also great for use around the eyes, as it won't cause stinging. Zinc oxide is simply the safest and best active sunscreen ingredient. It covers the entire UVA and UVB spectrum by itself, it has the most consistently effective absorption capabilities, which never degrade.

Which sunscreen has been recalled? ›

Edgewell Personal Care Issues Voluntary Nationwide Recall of Banana Boat Hair & Scalp Sunscreen Due to the Presence of Benzene. When a company announces a recall, market withdrawal, or safety alert, the FDA posts the company's announcement as a public service. FDA does not endorse either the product or the company.

Which type of sunscreen is best for dry skin? ›

Here are 7 sunscreen for dry skin:
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen. ...
  • SkinKraft Sunscreen Dry-Touch. ...
  • Bella Vita Organic Face & Body Sunscreen Lotion. ...
  • Mamaearth HydraGel Sunscreen SPF 50. ...
  • NutriGlow Sunscreen for Dry Skin. ...
  • Minimalist Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50. ...
  • Earth Rhythm Mineral Sunscreen.
30 Mar 2022

Is it OK to use sunscreen everyday? ›

Wearing sunscreen every day on exposed skin, like your face, ears, and back of the hands is a good idea to protect you from UV damage.

What happens when you wear sunscreen everyday? ›

Wearing sunscreen daily saves you from years of visible damage later. Sunscreen protects every skin type. If you have a darker complexion, the melanin in your skin offers some protection from sunburns, but you still need to protect your skin from those harmful ultraviolet rays.

Can I apply sunscreen directly on face? ›

As per dermatologists, the best way to get the most out of your sunscreen is to use it directly on the skin. This means that you can apply sunscreen directly to your face. Ensure that you wash your face with a cleanser to remove accumulated dirt or oil.

What is the number one sunscreen? ›

Almost all of the experts we interviewed mentioned the Vanicream Broad Spectrum Sunscreen — whether they categorized it as their favorite overall, top pick for mineral sunblock, sensitive skin or budget-buy. “This mineral SPF50+ sunscreen contains zinc oxide and protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

What sunscreen does Victoria Beckham use? ›

The former Spice Girl singer loves the 'Sarah Chapman Skinesis Skin Insurance SPF 50'. She once remarked: "On a day when I'm hanging around the house with the kids, I just like to use Sarah Chapman Skin Insurance SPF 30.

What is the best UV protection cream? ›

Best sun creams at a glance:

Best for oily skin: Clinique SPF40 Body Cream. Best for face: Kiehl's Ultra Light Daily Defense SPF 50. Best value: Altruist Dermatologist Sunscreen SPF 50. Best tinted sun cream: Trinny London BFF SPF 30 Cream.

Which type of sunscreen is best? ›

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day. This protects against approximately 97% of the sun's UV rays.

How do you know if sunscreen is effective? ›

It's also important to look past the SPF and make sure the label on your sunscreen says “broad-spectrum.” “The SPF rating standardizes how effective sunscreens are with protecting against ultraviolet B [UVB] rays from the sun,” Dr. Leffell says.

What sunscreen is safe? ›

For now, if you are concerned about health effects, the safest choice is a so-called “mineral” or “physical” sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, dermatologists say. Those are only sunscreen ingredients that the FDA says are “generally recognized as safe and effective.”

Which is better for face sunscreen or sunblock? ›

Because titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are less irritating than the ingredients found in sunscreen, sunblock is usually the better choice for those with sensitive skin.

Do I need sunblock or sunscreen? ›

Both sunscreen and sunblock provide protection from the sun. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, however, skin type should be a consideration when choosing the right product for you. For people with sensitive skin, sunblocks with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are better tolerated.

Which is better SPF or UV protection? ›

But the truth is that higher-SPF products are only marginally better at shielding you from UVB, according to both the EWG and the Skin Cancer Foundation. SPF 30 blocks nearly 97% of UVB radiation, SPF 50 blocks about 98%, and SPF 100 blocks about 99%.

What sunscreen is safe to use daily? ›

For day-to-day use, pick a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. If you spend time outdoors, choose a product with SPF 60 or greater. In reality, most people do not use as much sunscreen as they should, and this higher SPF helps compensate for the reduced application.

Is Neutrogena sunscreen safe now? ›

On July 14, 2021, Johnson & Johnson issued a voluntary recall of certain Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreen sprays after internal testing detected low levels of benzene, a colorless chemical that can cause certain cancers, in those products.

What sunscreens do not contain benzene? ›

Which Sunscreen Does Not Contain Benzene?
  • Sheer Zinc Continuous Spray Sunscreen SPF 30.
  • Super Shield Sport Stick Sunscreen SPF 50.
  • Daily Sheer Fluid SPF 50.
  • SPF 50 Baby Skin Mineral Sunscreen Lotion.

What sunscreen has been recalled? ›

Specifically, the recalled products are 6 ounce Banana Boat Hair and Scalp Sunscreen Spray SPF 30 with lot codes 20016AF (expiration date December 2022), 20084BF (expiration date February 2023), and 21139AF (expiration date April 2024). The products were sold to retailers and online, the company said.

What happens when you wear sunscreen everyday? ›

Wearing sunscreen daily saves you from years of visible damage later. Sunscreen protects every skin type. If you have a darker complexion, the melanin in your skin offers some protection from sunburns, but you still need to protect your skin from those harmful ultraviolet rays.

What level of sunscreen is best? ›

Is a high-number SPF better than a low-number one? Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97% of the sun's UVB rays. Higher-number SPFs block slightly more of the sun's UVB rays, but no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun's UVB rays.

Can I use sunscreen without moisturizer? ›

If you're using a chemical sunscreen, it needs to be applied first. This is because chemical sunscreen needs to penetrate the skin in order to provide protection. However, if you're using a physical sunscreen (also known as mineral sunscreen), sunscreen should be applied after moisturizer.

Which Neutrogena sunscreens to avoid? ›

None of CR's recommended sunscreens are affected by the recalls. The Johnson & Johnson products that were recalled include Neutrogena Beach Defense, Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport, Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer, and Aveeno Protect + Refresh.

Should I avoid oxybenzone? ›

Oxybenzone is one of the common active ingredients in sunscreens that are sold in the US. The FDA says it is safe. But some environmental and health groups single out oxybenzone as potentially unsafe for some people and the environment. This is because some studies have shown oxybenzone can cause skin allergies.

Should I throw away my Neutrogena sunscreen? ›

Consumers should stop using these products and throw them away, the company said. At the same time, it emphasized the importance of using alternative sunscreen products to protect the skin from excessive sun exposure, which can lead to skin cancer including melanoma.

Which sunscreens do not contain carcinogens? ›

Badger Balm, Blue Lizard, All Good, California Baby, Babo Botanicals, and Poofy Organics are only a few examples of brands that offer non-toxic sunscreen options with clean, safe, and organic ingredients.

What are the 78 sunscreens with benzene? ›

78 out of 300 sunscreen products were found contaminated with benzene
  • Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50.
  • Babyganics Kid's Sunscreen Continuous Spray, SPF 50.
  • Banana Boat Kids' Max Protect & Play Sunscreen, SPF 100.
  • Banana Boat Kids' Sport Sunscreen Lotion Spray, SPF 50.

Does Nivea sunscreen have benzene? ›

Important Information. Following recent product testing, NIVEA Sun (owned by Beiersdorf) is recalling two batches that have been identified as having levels of benzene above the 2 part per million (ppm) permissible levels set of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

What sunscreens are safe from benzene? ›

The picks below contained no benzene, per the report:
  • La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in Milk Sunscreen SPF 100. $26 at AmazonShop at WalmartShop at Ulta Beauty.
  • Banana Boat Kids Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ $12 at AmazonShop at Walmart.
  • Hawaiian Tropic Island Ultra-Light Sunscreen SPF 30. ...
  • EltaMD UV Pure Sunscreen SPF 47.
15 Jul 2021

Do all sunscreens have benzene? ›

Benzene "is not an ingredient in sunscreens and never has been," he explains. In other words: Benzene is not supposed to be anywhere near the sunscreen manufacturing process.

Why was Neutrogena SPF 100 discontinued? ›

Johnson & Johnson is voluntarily recalling specific NEUTROGENA® and AVEENO® Aerosol Sunscreen Products, due to low levels of benzene, a cancer causing substance, according to a recall notice from the Defense Commissary Agency's food safety office sent July 15.

Videos

1. Just How Safe Are Your Cosmetics, Food & Sunscreens? | EWG's Healthy Living App
(A Place to Nest)
2. EWG's 2013 Sunscreen Guide featuring Alexandra Cousteau
(Environmental Working Group (EWG))
3. EWG: 75% of sunscreens offer inferior protection or have worrisome ingredients
(ABC Action News)
4. Heather Armstrong, founder of dooce.com - EWG's sunscreen database
(Environmental Working Group (EWG))
5. Safer Sunscreen
(Kelli DiMattia, NP)
6. EWG Sunscreens and Badger - A Conversation on Sun Safety
(Badger Balm)

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