06/13/2011 11:06 am ET | Updated Aug 13, 2011

Sunscreens Evaluated By Environmental Working Group

"Wear sunscreen" seems like pretty solid advice, right? Well, that depends on which one you're planning on wearing, according to a recent guide put together by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization.

While it's widely accepted that sunscreen does protect your skin from the sun, the report argues that many products with SPF have potentially harmful side effects. The organization evaluated a total of 1,700 products containing SPF, and of the 600 beach and sport sunscreens reviewed, the EWG recommends only 20 percent of them.

So, what's wrong with the other 80 percent? Well, several things, according to Nneka Leiba, a research analyst with the EWG.

"Unfortunately, sunscreen manufacturers are still selling products that don't offer broad spectrum protection and have hazardous ingredients that penetrate the skin," Leiba said.

Of particular concern are retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A that when paired with sun exposure could increase the chances for cancer, and oxybenzone, which has been associated with hormone disruption linked to developmental and reproductive health problems.

"Women of child bearing age should be especially cognizant," Leiba said, adding that babies and young children would also be vulnerable.

The EWG argues that spray sunscreens are among the worst in the group; when they contain potentially harmful chemicals, you stand a chance of breathing those toxins in and absorbing a higher concentration than you would just rubbing them in to your skin.

Some of the sunscreens you might think are best for you, those with high SPF, could actually put you at greater risk of sun exposure. Several studies have shown that those products give consumers a false sense of protection that may cause them to reapply not often enough.

Despite all these concerns, no one is suggesting going without sunscreen. Instead, the EWG recommends mineral-based sunscreens containing ingredients like zinc and titanium.

The FDA does not currently regulate what claims sunscreen producers can make on the bottle, and until there are rules in place, the EWG suggests reading the labels yourself and knowing what to look for. Here are some of the products they endorse, and others they advise avoiding.


Karen's Botanicals Simple Sunblock Lotion, Unscented, SPF 30, $19.99

Elemental Herbs Sunstick Zinc Sunscreen, Unscented, SPF 30, $7.99

Purple Prairie Botanicals Sun Stick, SPF 30, $8.99

Badger Sunscreen Face Stick, Unscented, SPF 30+, $8.50

TruKid Sunny Days Water Resistant Unscented Mineral Face & Body Stick, SPF 35+, $10.99


Aveeno Active Naturals Hydrosport Sunblock Spray, SPF 85

Banana Boat Kids UltraMist Sunscreen, SPF 110

Banana Boat Sport Performance Active Max Protect Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110

CVSExtreme Sport Clear Mist Sunscreen, SPF 70+

Neutrogena Fresh Cooling Sunblock Lotion, Body Mist, SPF 70

For the full list, visit the EWG’s website.