Many sunscreens do not provide proper protection

Only 25% of sunscreens provide proper skin protection against aging and melanoma without using dangerous chemicals that can harm the environment, report finds

  • Only a fraction of sunscreens available in the U.S. actually meet skin protection and environmental standards set by the EWG 
  • Carla Burns, an expert at the EWG, said that the products were created with protection from sunburns in mind, not from skin aging or melanoma
  • She says products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as an active ingredient are best, and to avoid oxybenzone
  • Consumers should also aim for a product between 15 and 50 SPF 
  • Other safety measure people should take when they are out in the sun is to limit exposure and to wear a hat

A majority of sunscreens available in the United States are not meeting standards for skin protection or environmental safety, a new report finds.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington D.C. based non-profit that focuses on environmental issues, released its annual ‘Guide to Sunscreens’ last week, and found that around 75 percent of available products in the U.S. did not meet standards.

The most alarming issue noted by researchers is that many of the sunscreens do not provide proper protection against skin aging or even melanoma – a type of skin cancer.

Some also contaminate local waters with dangerous chemicals when they was off, contaminating the drinking supply and hurting key ecosystems like coral.

The EWG warns that around 75% of sunscreens available in the U.S. are either not providing adequate sun protection, or have ingredients that are harmful to the environment (file photo)

Carla Burns, the senior director of cosmetic science at EWG, explained to DailyMail.com that many of these products may be protecting against sun burn, longer term damage is still occurring.

The SPF, or sun protection factor, value on each product is gauging the products ability to prevent burns over all else.

‘What the sunscreen is actually measured to protect you from is sun burns, but what you’re not seeing is that correlation from other sun concerns, such as skin aging, skin cancer and a variety of other health harms,’ Burns explained. 

Carla Burns (pictured), of the EWG, said that products that use zinc oxide as an active ingredient are best for personal and environmental protection

‘While you may be protected from burning and getting, its not guaranteeing that the product is protecting you from other sun issues.’ 

Burns says that the reason for these failures of the products is because of the way sunscreens in America were developed – valuing protection against burns over all else.

‘It’s based on [the] legacy and how sunscreens came about in the US,’ she explained.

‘They came on the marketplace to provide that sunburn protection.’ 

While many manufacturers have further tailored their products to protect against skin aging and cancer, there are no particular requirements to do so at a federal level.

Increased exposure to the sun can cause skin aging, in a process called ‘photoaging’. This can increase the amount of wrinkles on their skin, and cause other damage that not only leads to poor skin health, but also can look poor aesthetically.

‘I see many patients who have a lot sun damage,’ Dr Kathleen Suozzi, a dermatologist at Yale University, said in a statement about the process.

‘They feel like their skin aged them, that they appear older than some of their peers, and they’re regretful of not being better with sun protection in their youth.’

The EWG says that products that contain the active ingredient zinc oxide are the best for skin and environmental protection. 

Titanium dioxide, another active ingredient in many sunscreens, is a safe and effective way to protect your skin as well, according to EWG. 

On top of using sunscreen, the EWG also says that people should monitor their sun exposure and even wear a hat to protect their skin from aging and other harmful affects like cancer

Burns also said that products with an SPF between 15 and 50 are optimal, as it gives enough protection against burns, but higher numbers could have a reversal effect that leads to a person thinking they are safe for prolonged skin exposure. 

She recommends against products that contain the active ingredient oxybenzone in particular, as the chemical can cause damage to the local environment. It also causes harm when it interacts with corals.

It has become such a major concern in recent years that some areas have banned the sale of sunscreen products that use the chemical, including the state of Hawaii and Key West in Florida – which is home to a large coral population.

There are also federal limits on the prevalence of the ingredient that can be used within a container of sunscreen in order to limit its environmental impact. 

It may be tough for the average consumer to identify recommended products, though. There is also often misleading, near-worthless, branding language on the front of packaging that can trick shoppers.

‘Unfortunately, the burden is on the consumer,’ Burns said. 

‘We recommend that you don’t rely on marketing claims alone. There’s a lot of terms that are used in the U.S. like ‘non-toxic’ [and] ‘natural’, and there’s no legal standardized regulatory definition.

‘So one company’s interpretation of what something means as ‘natural’ can be really different than another company’s, so we really encourage consumers to turn over the package really try and find out what ingredients are being used.’



CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen (left) and Paula’s Choice Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid (middle) both meet standards laid out by Burns. La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In sunscreen (right) contains oxybenzone, so it does not meet recommended standards

Burns did not mention any specific products by name, though DailyMail.com identified two that met the guidelines she laid out.

Paula’s Choice Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid can be found in SPF 50, and contains titanium dioxide as an active ingredient.

CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen also comes in SPF 30 and 50, and include both titanium dixode and zinc oxide as active ingredients.

A product like La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In sunscreen would  not be recommended, as it included oxybenzone.

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