July 1, 2008 -- 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 30+
- 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 products.