Tuesday, just ahead of Memorial Day weekend, the Environmental Working Group released its 12th annual Guide to Sunscreens, rating the safety and efficacy of more than 1,000 sunscreens, moisturizers and lip balms that advertise sun protection. EWG researchers found that 67 percent of the products don't work well or contain ingredients that could harm health.
"The majority of sunscreens available in the U.S. aren't as good as most consumers think they are," said EWG Senior Research Analyst Sonya Lunder.
Most sunscreens on the market contain hormone-disrupting ingredients, like oxybenzone, which Hawaii lawmakers recently moved to ban due to its role in coral bleaching and coral death. Hawaii Gov. David Yutaka Ige has yet to sign the bill into law.
Research shows that oxybenzone is an allergen that soaks through skin and can be detected in the bodies of nearly every American. It is also a hormone disruptor. Despite the 2014 Sunscreen Innovation Act, the Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved any new sunscreen ingredients in a decade.
Oxybenzone is found in the majority of products on the market, including nearly all sunscreens advertising an SPF value greater than 50. EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews said high SPF numbers are a marketing gimmick that could lead to overexposure.
"SPF values of 75, 80, or 100 lull Americans into thinking their skin is fully protected from the sun's harmful rays for extended periods of time," said Andrews. "People tend to misuse these high SPF products, spending more time in the sun without reapplying, putting them and their families at greater risk of UV damage."
Sunscreen products are capped at SPF 50 in Europe and Japan, and 50+ in Canada and Australia. Capping SPF claims is one important way the FDA could improve consumer protection in the U.S., because sunscreen companies continue to flood the market with higher SPF products that offer inadequate UVA protection and leave consumers vulnerable to sun damage.