With SPF moisturizers, makeup and easy-to-use sprays, there’s hardly an excuse not to use
But many of these products aren’t protecting your skin and actually could be harming your
health, according to researchers at the Environmental Working Group.
About 500 of this year’s sunscreens and products that contain sunscreen either don’t work as
well as people might think, or contain ingredients that could be toxic, according to the group’s
Researchers for the group — a consumer-action organization based in Washington, D.C. — analyzed
more than 700 sunscreen products sold in the United States. They approved less than one-third of
them as both safe and effective.
Among the problems: products with a really high SPF, sprays, some SPF moisturizers and makeup
products, and items with chemicals such as vitamin A and oxybenzone as ingredients.
About 15 percent of beach and sport sunscreens on the market this year are labeled with SPF —
Sun Protection Factor — values greater than 50, which is no measure of sunscreen effectiveness,
said Paul Pestano, an Environmental Working Group research analyst.
Dr. Laurie Hommema, a family doctor at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, said: “There’s
really no difference between SPF 45 and SPF 100, and people get a false sense of security from
those big numbers.”
Because of the high number, she said, “They don’t apply enough sunscreen or wait too long before
SPF 30 is a good number to shoot for, she said. Then reapply that sunscreen at least every two
Researchers also questioned whether sunscreen sprays provide a layer of sunscreen that’s thick
enough to protect skin — and whether they pose chemical-inhalation risks.
“A lot of sunscreens use nanoparticles that are safe on skin, but they could be dangerous to
inhale,” Pestano said.
About one-third of sunscreens are sprays, and people such as Kerri Lawrence love them for their
“I’ve wondered if it’s bad to breathe,” said the 38-year-old Clintonville mom, who recently
visited the Grandview Heights swimming pool with her daughter.
She said that during the summer, she goes through a bottle of sunscreen in a day or two. “With
the little kids running around, the spray is a lot easier,” Lawrence said.
Nanoparticles found in American sunscreens are either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which are
important to have in a sunscreen, Pestano said. But they should not be inhaled.
In rub-on sunscreens, these minerals are known for their white, chalky appearance, so people
tend to avoid them.
Instead, they should avoid potentially toxic vitamin A and oxybenzone, Pestano said, which are
found in both rub-ons and sprays.
Vitamin A, also known as retinol and retinyl palmitate, is marketed as an anti-aging element but
has been shown to quicken the development of tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin. It’s in about
20 percent of the sunscreens and 12 percent of SPF moisturizers in Environmental Working Group’s
Oxybenzone, a common chemical in about half of sunscreens, can soak through skin and trigger
allergic reactions, Pestano said. The chemical also can act like estrogen and disrupt hormones.
Still, Hommema said she’d rather people use poor sunscreen than no sunscreen.
“I generally tell all of my patients to use a mineral sunscreen rather than a chemical, just
because they’re safer,” she said. “But if chemicals or sprays or those SPF towelettes are the only
sunscreen my patient’s going to apply, then I’m not going to discourage it.”
Environmental Working Group’s 2014 sunscreen report is at