Sunscreen advice from EWG: important questions

The Environmental Working Group’s previous reports on sunscreens have been controversial among industry brandowners but both industry and the US government seem not to have recognized that when government fails to regulate or at least advise consumers on product safety then environmental groups are provided with a massive opportunity to inject their own advice into the marketplace.

EWG, an environmental group that specializes in toxic substances in consumer products, has just published its 2012 edition of Skin Deep Sunscreens 2012, a very detailed report on potentially toxic substances in sunscreen products. EWG states that its review of the latest research on sunscreen ingredients “might tempt you to give up on sunscreens altogether. That’s not the right answer. Despite the unknowns about sunscreens’ efficacy, public health agencies still recommend using them, just not as your first line of defense against the sun.”

Among the information that EWG provides:

  • there is very little evidence that sunscreen prevents most types of skin cancer.
  • sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer for some people.
  • there is no proof that high-SPF products are better.
  • the common sunscreen ingredient retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) may speed development of cancer.
  • sunscreen chemicals approved in Europe but not by the US FDA provide up to five times more UVA protection; U.S. companies have been waiting five years for FDA approval to use the same compounds.
  • the FDA has no plans to consider evidence of hormone disruption for sunscreen chemicals.
The EWG sunscreens 2012 report has sections on:
  • Sunscreens Exposed: Nine Surprising Truths
  • Health Agencies Question Sunscreen Efficacy
  • Sunscreen and skin cancer
  • Europe’s Better Sunscreens
  • Do Sunscreens Damage Skin?
  • FDA Fails Consumers
  • Getting enough vitamin D
  • The Problem With Vitamin A
  • What’s Wrong With High SPF?
  • Nanomaterials and Hormone Disrupters in Sunscreens

The report, and an app providing brand by brand advice for the US market (note that sunscreens on the Canadian market may not have the same formulation as similar US products) is available at

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