Summer’s hot, and the debate over how to protect yourself from the sun is even hotter. The Environmental Working Group released its 2019 Guide to Sunscreens today—the 13th annual report of its kind—and it finds that two-thirds of sunscreen products on the market “offer inferior protection or contain worrisome ingredients.” But not everyone agrees you should be scared.
The report rates the safety and efficacy of more than 1300 sun-protection products, including sunscreens, moisturizers, and lip balms. “Just under 60 percent of the products we assessed contain ingredients that the FDA says they don’t have enough toxicology data to state if they’re safe and/or effective,” says Nneka Leiba, director of EWG’s Healthy Living Science program.
The FDA created a proposal for new sunscreen regulations in February of this year. “Their recommendations strongly align with what we’ve been recommending for 13 years,” Lieba says. “If they went through as written, they would absolutely move our sunscreen market into where it should be,” she says. “The fact that 12 of the active ingredients we use almost every day don’t have enough toxicology data is appalling.”
Among the EWG’s concerns:
- Many products contain “worrisome” ingredients, like oxybenzone, a chemical that was featured in a study earlier this year that found that people had it in their bloodstreams after just four days of applying it. The group points to it as a potential hormone disruptor, and cites negative studies on the chemical, including research linking higher levels of oxybenzone in the blood of adolescent boys to lower levels of testosterone. The group recommends staying away from products containing oxybenzone and points out that mineral sunscreens—those containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide—are generally recognized as safe, and there are plenty of them on the market.
- That SPF products higher than 50+ give people a false sense of security, leading you to apply them less or stay out longer and get more skin damage.
- That spray and powder sunscreens could enter the lungs if the particles are small enough. But right now, not a lot of testing has been done on particle size, so the EWG recommends avoiding the sprays until the results of further testing are in.