By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Ready for summer break? You’d better do your homework before you hit the beach. Sunscreen products remain a risky proposition in the US, according to the 2012 Sunscreen Guide released by the Environmental Working Group today.

Look for sunscreens that use natural minerals.

After reviewing nearly 1,800 sunscreens, moisturizers, lip balms and other ray-protecting products, EWG testers found that only about 25 percent of sunscreen products deserved a “best” rating. The good news: That was at least better than last year’s showing when only about 20 percent of the products tested rated that well.

The majority of sunscreens failed to make the grade for various reasons. Some contained synthetic fragrances that can act as endocrine disruptors. Others contained oxybenzone, an easily absorbed synthetic chemical that does absorb the sun’s rays but also acts as a hormone or endocrine disruptor. Oxybenzone also can cause allergic reactions, according to EWG.

Another chemical to avoid in sunscreens, retinyl palmitate, a Vitamin A derivative, turned up in several products. EWG warns consumers to select sunscreens without retinyl palmitate because  research by the federal Food and Drug Administration and National Toxicology Program “suggests that this chemical may heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin.”

Some of the sunscreens tested were just plain ineffective, offering protection from sunburn by blocking UVA rays, but not fully protecting against skin damage by failing to block UVB rays. (Confused? See the report’s Hall of Shame section for full details.)

Other sunscreens raised concerns because they were formulated as aerosals or powders, presenting a needless inhalation risk, especially for children.

Sunscreens for children rated better than the overall group of products surveyed. About 60 percent of the nearly 180 sunscreens targeting the children’s market contain safer, mineral ingredients –zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. And the kids’ concoctions were less likely to contain oxybenzone.

Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone, say EWG analysts.

Looking out for adults, the report warned consumers not to fall prey to “super-hyped, super-pricey moisturizers with sunscreen,” citing one that sells for $267 an ounce.

EWG analysts blamed the FDA for not pushing for tighter controls on the cosmetics industry.

“While we’re grateful to see the general market improve, we wish we could assure consumers that 100 percent of sunscreens sold in the US are effective and safe,” said senior analyst Nneka Leiba, M. Phil., M.P.H.. “We can’t.”

The non-profit advocacy charged that the FDA still allows “potentially hazardous ingredients” in sunscreens and hyperbolic claims by manufacturers.

New stricter labeling standards are expected, but have been delayed until the end of the year.

Until then, the EWG guide advises shoppers to:

  • Choose those with active ingredients zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or 3 percent avobenzone.
  •  Avoid oxybenzone and vitamin A (retinyl palmitate).
  • Use creams or lotions, not sunscreen sprays or powders.
  •  Buy sunscreens without bug spray. Apply bug repellant separately if needed.

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network