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Environmental Group: Only 1 in 5 Sunscreens OK

Environmental Working Group Rates Sunscreens for Safety and Effectiveness; Industry Group Calls Report 'Reckless'

WebMD Health News

May 23, 2011 -- Just in time for the beginning of summer, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has issued its 5th annual guide to sunscreen products.

Just one in five of more than 600 beach and sport sunscreens made the cut. Another 11 products earned a spot in the group's Hall of Shame.

The report also evaluates lip balms, moisturizers, and makeup products that claim sun protection.

The environmental group had some general advice for consumers, as well. "We recommend people avoid sunscreen sprays," says report co-author Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at EWG. The concern, she says, is that chemicals can be inhaled.

Sunscreens with a form of vitamin A known as retinyl palminate -- in about 30% of sunscreens -- should also be avoided because of concerns about it producing skin lesions, she tells WebMD. Oxybenzone, which EWG calls a ''hormone disrupter," is another ingredient to be avoided, she says.

Meanwhile, the report is termed ''reckless'' by Farah Ahmed, chair of the Sunscreen Task Force for the Personal Care Products Council, an industry group. Ahmed reviewed the findings for WebMD. "It's very, very similar and probably 90% of it is verbatim from last year," she says.

Ahmed takes exception with some of the EWG evaluation methods.

Lunder counters: "We think the industry really needs to catch up with the science."

Best Sunscreens, According to EWG

Sunscreens earning a spot on the EWG recommended list contain the minerals zinc or titanium as their active ingredient. "We think they are the most stable," Lunder tells WebMD.

Among the sunscreens on the EWG top pick list:

  • Alba Botanica Mineral Sunscreen, Fragrance-Free, SPF 30
  • Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Mineral Block Face Stick SPF 50
  • Climb On! Mineral Sunblock SPF 30
  • Karen's Botanicals Simple Sunblock Lotion, Unscented, SPF 30
  • Loving Naturals Sunscreen, SPF 30 plus
  • Sun Putty Face SPF 30
  • Vanicream Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin, SPF 30

None of the recommended sunscreens include chemicals that EWG considers hormone-disrupting, such as oxybenzone. None of the recommended sunscreens had retinyl palminate.

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