Money Matters - Simplified

EWG exposes effectiveness and safety of sunscreen brands

People generally use sunscreen to protect their skin from the Sun’s carcinogenic and aging effects, but a public watchdog group in the United States on Tuesday exposed some astonishing facts about the sunscreens, revealing that most of the brands are not capable of providing enough protection from the sun's harmful rays.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization which aims to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment, yesterday, released the one of its kind analysis of the safety and effectiveness of more than 700 name-brand sunscreens.

The alarming study, published on EWG’ssite and a new Website ( launched by the Group, finds that over 80 percent of the sunscreens in the market, including some top-selling brands, provide inadequate protection.

To reach their conclusion, the Environmental Working Group analyzed as many as 785 sunscreen brands and prepared an online database in which it enlisted products that offer the best combination of safety and effectiveness, and further grouped them by the types of harmful sun rays they're formulated to protect against.

“When we put all of the factors that we considered together, what would make a safe an effective sunscreen found that about one of every six products on the market looked like it would both work, protect you from the sun, and would be low in ingredients that you would be concerned about,” said Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group, who was Vice President for the research at EWG.

For their ground-breaking research, Houlihan and colleagues reviewed nearly 400 peer-reviewed studies of the 17 sunscreen chemicals approved for use in the United States, an analysis of sunscreen ingredient toxicity linked to 60 industry and government databases on chemical hazards and customized.

They also included a product-by-product assessment of the level of protection they provide from Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that cause sunburns and also from the Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays which are linked to skin cancer (melanoma), wrinkles and skin aging.

After the comprehensive scientific review, the Group concluded that 84% of 783 sunscreen products with an SPF rating of 15 or higher offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients with meaningful safety concerns.

Additionally, some widely-known sunscreen chemicals stop functioning when exposed to sunlight, while others penetrate the skin and present significant health concerns.

Merely 16% of the products are both safe and effective, providing protection against both UVA and UVB radiation, remaining stable in sunlight, and containing few chemicals with significant known or suspected health hazards, according to the online database.

EWG’s research comes as the US health watchdog FDA failed to set any significant sunscreen standards, Houlihan said. “With over one million cases of skin cancer reported each year people should have the most reliable information available about which sunscreens will provide the best protection for themselves and their families,” he added.

Due to the FDA’s failure to set enforceable standards for sunscreen, the sunscreen industry remains pretty much unregulated.

According to, a survey to find out the diversity among users and non-users of sunscreen everyday revealed that 40% people never use it and only 11% use a SPF 15 or higher. Also, 42% people suffer from sunburns every year and a person suffering from five or more sunburns has high risk of striking melanoma (skin cancer).

Melanoma, the deadliest of all skin cancers, is anticipated to affect almost 60,000 Americans this year and might end up killing some 8,100. Doctors have found the skin cancer in adults as well as children which is caused when they’re exposed to the sun during beach vacations, school recesses, and outdoor sports.

Dermatologists have found that the UV rays can even penetrate through glass, differ from day to day.

The sunscreens offered until now provide protection against sunburns only (caused by UVB rays) and not against skin cancer (caused by deep penetrating UVA rays). The SPF rate mentioned on different sunscreen products indicates the amount of time for which the product shall protect the skin from burning in the sun. For example, a SPF 15 sunscreen indicates 15 min protection under the sun whereas in normal circumstances 1 min exposure under the sun causes sunburns.