Alarming Things You Need to Know About Sunscreens

Just 25 percent of products actually protect your skin. And more bad news.

The vast majority of sunscreens on the market are not as good as you might think, according to the Environmental Working Group’s 7th annual Sunscreen Guide. After testing more than 1,400 sunscreens, lotions, lip products and makeups that claim sun protection, just 25 percent were found to offer strong and broad UV protection and to raise few health concerns.

This information is critical at a time when skin cancer is on the rise.

“Despite an increasing awareness of the sun’s risks, rates of melanoma–the deadliest skin cancer–have tripled over the past 35 years, with an annual increase of 1.9 percent per year since 2000,” said Sonya Lunder, senior research analyst at EWG and lead author of the report, in a press release.

EWG researchers believe that part of the reason for the increase could be decades of deceptive marketing claims by sunscreen manufactures. Luckily, there are a handful of products that will keep your skin safe without any side effects (read about them here).

Along with its guide, the EWG also issued a list of types of products to avoid:

  • Sprays: These products may pose serious risks if inhaled and may not fully cover the skin. About one in four products tested by the EWG was a spray.
  • Super-high SPFs (anything above 50): These provide little additional skin protection and misperceptions can contribute to misuse.
  • Anything with retinyl palmitate (vitamin A): Touted for its anti-aging effect on the skin, retinyl palmitate—a form of vitamin A—can actually speed up the development of tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin, according to a government study. This ingredient is found in about  25 percent of SPF-rated sunscreens.
  • Anything with oxybenzone: This chemical passes through the skin and into the bloodstream where it can act like estrogen in the body. It can cause allergic reactions and preliminary data has linked it to health risks. Almost half of all beach and sport sunscreens in the EWG guide contain oxybenzone.

If you’d rather skip sunscreen products, there are other precautions you can take to protect your skin.

"The best advice for concerned consumers is to use sun-protective clothing, stay in the shade to reduce intense sun exposure and schedule regular skin examinations by a doctor,” Lunder said.

Via Environmental Working Group.