Eighty percent of sunscreens sold in the US are ineffective or harmful, report claims

Eighty percent of sunscreens sold in the US are ineffective or harmful, report claims

Eighty percent of sunscreen products sold in the US are ineffective or contain ingredients that are harmful to the health of consumers, according to a report published yesterday by the Environmental Working Group.

The 2015 Guide to Sunscreens evaluated the ingredients and effectiveness of 1,700 products, including sunscreens, SPF-rated moisturizers and lip balms. 

It flagged up leading brands such as Neutrogena, Banana Boat, Coppertone and CVS in its lists of the worst sunscreen products that consumers ought to avoid.

Neutrogena products raised an unusual number of flags in EWG’s review because of the brand’s misleading marketing practices.

In an effort to gain consumer trust, Neutrogena promotes its products with the strapline of “#1 dermatologist recommended suncare brand,” yet the EWG found the brand guilty of using harmful ingredients in its sunscreens such as oxybenzone, which can disrupt the hormone system and retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that has been found to speed up the development of skin tumours and lesions on sun-exposed skin.           

The EWG attacked Neutrogena for selling what it referred to as “questionable” products with an SPF as high as 110 – more than double the maximum recommended value outlined by the US Food and Drug Administration, which calls SPF values greater than 50+ “inherently misleading.”

Sonya Lunder, EWG Senior Analyst, commented, “It is really quite astonishing how Neutrogena attempts to deceive shoppers with ad hype in order to sell potentially harmful products. We’ve turned a spotlight on bad actors like Neutrogena, but so much more needs to be done to stop companies from getting away with hyping their products at the expense of consumer health.”

“Many studies have shown that people are misled by label claims about sun protection and that, as a result, those who use higher SPF sunscreens are more likely to stay out in the sun longer and more likely to burn,” Lunder added.

Products with ultra-high SPFs are currently banned in Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia. The FDA launched a review in February into redrafting legislation to ban such products.

The EWG estimates that half of the products in this year’s guide could not be sold in Europe because of the European Commission’s stricter rules on SPF values and UVA protection.

Only 21 percent of the 1,000 sunscreens analyzed for EWG’s guide scored high marks. The full list can be found here. Roughly 19 percent of moisturizers and 21 percent of lip balms scored well.

The EWG has also released a Skin Deep mobile barcode scanning app to provide consumers with ratings and safety information on sunscreens and other cosmetics products.

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