An environmental research and advocacy group claims that
four out of five brand-name sunscreens either provide inadequate sun protection
or contain chemicals that may be unsafe, but industry representatives strongly
dispute the charge.
In a report released Tuesday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) calls on
the FDA to implement promised changes in sunscreen labeling that would require
manufacturers to provide more detailed information about the level of sun
protection their products provide.
For the first time, manufacturers would have to test and label their
products for protection against ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, which does not
cause sunburns but can damage collagen and cause wrinkles and sunspots. Research
suggests that UVA is a cause of skin cancer .
The labeling upgrade was proposed by the FDA last August, but the changes
have not been finalized.
The current sun protection factor (SPF) labeling system, which was
implemented three decades ago, measures only protection from UVB rays -- the
ultraviolet rays that cause sunburns.
"You can buy a high SPF product and still have no assurance that you are
being protected from UVA, as well as UVB rays," EWG research director Jane
Houlihan tells WebMD.
Sunscreens Under Scrutiny
In their newly published analysis of more than 900 brand-named sunscreens,
EWG researchers concluded that 7% of the products with SPF ratings of 30 or
higher did not protect against UVA rays.
Only 15% of the sunscreens met the group's criteria for safety and
effectiveness by providing broad-spectrum sun protection (denoting protection
against both UVA and UVB radiation), remaining stable in sunlight, and
containing only active ingredients considered safe by the EWG.
The top-selling sunscreen brands tended to be the poorest performers, with
none of market leader Coppertone's sunscreen products consider to be both safe
and effective by the EWG.
Just one of 103 products from the second-largest seller, Banana Boat, and
the third largest seller, Neutrogena, were recommended by the EWG.
Here are their top picks:
- Keys Soap Solar Rx Therapeutic Sunblock, SPF 30
- Trukid Sunny Days Facestick Mineral Sunscreen UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum, SPF
- California Baby Sunblock Stick No Fragrance, SPF 30+
- Badger Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Marie Veronique Skin Therapy Sun Serum
- Lavera Sunscreen Neutral, SPF 40
- Vanicream Sunscreen, SPF 35
- UV Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
- Sun Science Sport Formula, SPF 30
- Soleo Organics Sunscreen all natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Among more widely available brands, Blue Lizard, California Baby, CVS, Jason
Natural Cosmetics, Kiss My Face, Neutrogena, Olay, SkinCeuticals, Solar Sense,
and Walgreens made the list.
More on the recommended brands along with the complete list of rated
sunscreens can be found at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/sunscreens2008 .
In a statement issued to WebMD on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Coppertone
manufacturer Schering-Plough disputed the report's findings with regard to its
"All Coppertone products are photostable, provide UVA/UVB protection,
and are routinely evaluated for safety and efficacy by independent
dermatologists and scientists," Julie Lux of Schering-Plough says.
"Coppertone is committed to the science and safety of sun care and is
concerned that reports like this one released by the Environmental Working
Group will inappropriately discourage consumers from protecting themselves from
A spokeswoman for Neutrogena parent company Johnson & Johnson also
defended its sunscreens.
"All Neutrogena products undergo extensive testing to ensure safety and
efficacy," Iris Grossman says in a statement.
Banana Boat issued a statement saying that all Banana Boat proucts "use
only ingredients that are safe and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) and other worldwide regulatory bodies," that their
products won't break down in the sun, and that the Skin Cancer Foundation
officially recommends Banana Boat as an effective UV sunscreen.
The EWG analysis suggested that nearly half of the products contained
ingredients known to become inactive in strong sunlight.
"It may seem counterintuitive, but of the 17 'active ingredients' that
FDA has approved for use as sunscreens in the U.S., at least four of them break
down significantly when they are exposed to sunlight," the EWG report
notes. "They lose their ability to absorb the sun's harmful rays and stop
working effectively in as little as 30 minutes, ranging up to several
Products containing the sun-stable and UVA filtering ingredients zinc oxide
and titanium dioxide were more likely to score highly in the group's
The report also criticized what EWG analysts called "over-the-top"
marketing claims that they contend would not be allowed under the proposed FDA
"There are more than 1 million skin cancers diagnosed in the United
States every year," Houlihan says. "Sunscreen is a very important part
of sun protection, and it is important that consumers know what they are
Two spokesmen for the sunscreen industry called the EWG claims unfounded and
Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) general council Farah Ahmed calls the
contention that 7% of high SPF sunscreens do not protect against UVA rays
"It is very clear to me that they have a very low level of understanding
of the way sunscreens work and the way they are regulated by the FDA and tested
by the industry," Ahmed tells WebMD.
Personal Care Products Council chief scientist John Bailey, PhD, says
sunscreens are both safe and effective and highly regulated by the FDA.
Bailey noted that the agency already has the authority to bring action
against any manufacturer that makes unsubstantiated claims about a
"The contention that (sunscreens) are too loosely or ineffectively
regulated is just not true," he tells WebMD.
Bailey also strongly disagrees with the suggestion in the EWG report that
the FDA is moving too slowly on its promised sunscreen label changes.
"The idea that FDA is somehow in cahoots with the industry and that we
have fought to delay the process is inaccurate," he says. "The agency
has received thousands of comments (on the label change), and they are in the
process of reviewing these comments."
Both Bailey and Ahmed expressed concern that the EWG report could cause
people to stop using sunscreens.
"I would hate to think that there are parents out there not using
sunscreen on their kids because of a report like this that is not based on real
science," Ahmed says.
In a statement issued Monday, American Academy of Dermatology President
William Hanke, MD, said people should choose a "broad-spectrum"
sunscreen as part of an overall sun protection regimen.
"The FDA is currently addressing requirements for UVA coverage in
sunscreens and considering sunscreen labeling changes to help the public make
knowledgeable decisions about protecting themselves from the danger of the
sun," Hanke said. "The American Academy of Dermatology currently awaits
the FDA's final ruling."
By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario
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