Last week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) posted their 2019 Guide to Sunscreens. Since 2007, EWG has worked to expose which sunscreen products sold in the U.S. fall short of effectively and safely protecting people, while advising consumers on safer and more effective choices.
Part of EWG’s job is to push the Food and Drug Administration to update and improve sunscreen regulations each year as new data emerges, urging the agency to set stricter standards to better protect public health. And as will be a surprise to almost no one, Europe’s regulations are way stricter than ours. This year, the FDA is finally proposing big changes that address many of the current concerns around ingredients and labeling, and should hopefully make all sunscreens safer and more effective going forward.
For the 2019 guide, the EWG assessed more than 1,300 products with SPF, including 750 currently available beach and sport sunscreens, and found that about two-thirds still offer inferior sun protection or contain concerning ingredients, such as oxybenzone, a potentially hormone-disrupting chemical that is readily absorbed by the body.
In general, you are looking for natural sunscreens made from titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or both. According to the FDA, higher sun protection factor values, or SPF, have not been shown to provide additional clinical benefit and may provide users with a false sense of security. To guard against this misconception, the agency proposes not to choose products with SPF claims over 50+. Also, be sure that the sunscreen offers both UVA and UVB protection.
I was surprised to find my face sunscreen received a really bad rating. While it’s made from both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, it also contains retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A), which may damage sun-exposed skin. Needless to say, I will be switching sunscreens.
You can read the full guide and search for your sunscreen on the EWG website. And don’t forget — don’t rely on sunscreen alone. The best defense against getting too much harmful ultraviolet radiation is a combination of protective clothing, shade, and good timing.