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How Safe and Effective Are Sunscreens?

Environmental Working Group Sees Improvements, but Still Gives Industry Low Marks

10-Best Lists continued...

On the top 10 lip balm list:

  • Fallene cotz LipCotz, Ultra High Sun Protection, SPF 45
  • Jane Iredale LipDrink, SPF 15
  • Badger Lip Balm, SPF 15
  • Caribbean Blue-natural basics Lip Shield, SPF 15
  • Shady Day Shady Kiss Lip Balm, SPF 30
  • Bare Escentuals Lip Guard, SPF 15
  • Lavanila Laboratories The Healthy Lip Butter, SPF 15, Pure Vanilla, SPF 15
  • Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm Lemon & Chamomile, SPF 25
  • Rx Suncare Lip Balm Sunblock, SPF 45
  • Crabtree & Evelyn Naturals Protective Lip Balm, SPF 8, Cocoa butter & Cardamom

And the top 10 SPF moisturizers, according to EWG:

  • Keys Soap Solar Rx Cosmetic Moisturizing sunblock, SPF 30
  • Marie Veronique Organics Crème de Jour Tinted, SPF 30,no nanoparticles
  • Devita International Daily Solar Protective Moisturizer 30
  • SanRe Organic Skinfood Supple Sunshine, Organic Rosemary and Lavender Day Creme (Dry to Normal), SPF 30
  • Lotus Moon Sage Sun Protective Crème, SPF 25
  • Institut Dermed Sun Protective Cream Oil Free, Untinted, SPF 28
  • N.V. Perricone M.D., Targeted Care Solar Protection Face with DMAE, SPF 26
  • Sue Devitt Promarine Tinted Moisturizer, SPF 30, Capri
  • Sun Science Organic Daily Wear, SPF 30
  • Karen's Botanical Lovely Lavender Cream, SPF 15

Failures and Improvements

Among the failings of the sunscreen products and industry, according to EWG:

  • Only 5% of products overall met their criteria for safety and sunscreen effectiveness -- and that includes blocking UVA and UVB, maintaining stability, and having no or few ingredients with health hazards.
  • Product claims are overstated, promising such things as "all day" protection.
  • Many spray and powder products contain tiny "nano-scale" ingredients that could be absorbed more easily in the lungs and cause problems.

EWG scientists did find that 70% of sunscreens available this year contain strong UVA filters, compared to just 29% last year. Among the top brands that were reformulated to boost UVA protection are Solbar, Zia Natural Skincare, Nivea, L'Oreal, and Hawaiian Tropic.

The ingredient oxybenzone, which the EWG contends disrupts hormone systems, was in 19% fewer sunscreens this year, according to the report.

Among the 339 sunscreens not recommended are:

  • Coppertone NutraShield, Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock, SPF 30
  • Huggies Little Swimmers Sunscreen, Moisturizing Blue Melon Splash
  • Jason Natural Cosmetics Sunbrellas: Complete Block Spray, SPF 26
  • CVS Sport Sunblock Lotion, SPF 30


Industry Response

The recent EWG report is "unscientific and unsubstantiated," says John Bailey, chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council, an industry group, in a statement.

In part, the statement also reads: "Consumers can be confident in the safety of the sunscreens they buy for themselves and their families because all sunscreens sold in the U.S. are regulated as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which requires them to go through rigorous scientific assessment and approval process that includes safety and performance testing before marketing."

In a telephone interview, Bailey tells WebMD: "I think there are so many flaws in this report that it's difficult to really know where to start." One flaw, he says, is that "they should have consulted real experts in the area," Instead, he says, they developed their own way of scoring and didn't consider ingredient stability in a realistic way.

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