Not surprisingly, the sunscreen industry blasted the findings. "They have taken a number of studies and then, without going into the lab, are asserting that somehow these products don't provide the amount of protection they should," says John Bailey, executive vice president for science for the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group.
In particular, Bailey took issue with the finding that some of the products break down in sunlight. The products have to be made according to good manufacturing requirements for drugs, he says. "They have to be shown to be stable as part of that requirement."
A statement released by the organization says that "Consumers should have a high level of confidence that sunscreen products are safe and effective when used as directed."
"The report is encouraging people to be sure [the sunscreens] are 100% photo stable," says Julie Lux, spokeswoman for Schering-Plough Corp. in Kenilworth, N.J., which makes Coppertone sunscreens.
"Coppertone has reformulated," she adds. "If you get a Coppertone product all are photo stable."
Johnson & Johnson, which makes Neutrogena sunscreen products, some of which are on the avoid list, issued a statement saying, "All Neutrogena products undergo extensive testing to ensure safety and efficacy."
Point of Agreement: Use Sun Protection
On one point all sides agree: Sun protection is crucial. "Practice sensible photo protection," Lim says, "which include staying in the shade when possible and using protective clothing, such as a hat and using sunscreen."
If you are planning to be in water, Houlihan adds, look for a sunscreen that's water resistant. The best sunscreens, she says, "have broad spectrum protection, UVA and UVB, they are stable in sunlight and they have few if any hazardous ingredients."
The EWG advises consumers to shop based on their "best" list of sunscreens, posted at the site, www.cosmeticsdatabase.com.
- What is your favorite sunscreen? Tell us about it on WebMD’s Health Cafe message board.