Never Leave the House Because 80% of Sunscreens Don't Even Work

Illustration for article titled Never Leave the House Because 80% of Sunscreens Dont Even Work

The Environmental Working Group has released its annual guide to sunscreens, and what they’ve discovered will encourage you to partake in the important summer ritual of staying inside. Their research, as reported by TIME, claims 80% of sunscreens offer “inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone and vitamin A.”

Oxybenzone is a chemical that can disrupt the hormone system, and some evidence suggests—though not definitively—that adding vitamin A to the skin could heighten sun sensitivity.


So some sunscreens don’t even work, some contain “worrisome” ingredients that could actually increase your risk for skin cancer, and all sprays are bad. Great news to begin your summer with.

The report points to Neutrogena as the brand most at fault for promising sun protection without delivering. The EWG says that Neutrogena claims its baby sunscreens provide “special protection from the sun and irritating chemicals” and is labeled “hypoallergenic,” but it contains a preservative called methylisothiazolinone that has been deemed unsafe for use in leave-on products by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. The company also boasts of high SPF levels like SPF 70 or SPF 100+, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there’s only notable protection up to SPF 50, the report adds.


But before canceling plans for Memorial Day weekend, visit the EWG’s site to find the sunscreens that actually do what sunscreens are meant to do. Otherwise, don’t leave for any weekend barbecues without wearing your most fashionable hazmat suit.

Image via FOX Searchlight

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A Small Turnip

There’s quite a bit of elision and misinformation presented here. I truly don’t have the energy to dig into all of it, but let’s take on the scare-quoted oxybenzone and Vitamin A, for example. Retinyl palmitate, the natural form of Vitamin A that is used in sunscreens, has been proven safe by multiple rigorous, large-scale, peer-reviewed, double-blind studies over many years and across the globe. The single, unpublished study that claimed that Vitamin A increases skin cancer risk was done 10 years ago, was never peer-reviewed and has never been replicated by any other study. In 2011, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, to give one example among many, examined this single anomalous report carefully and concluded that “decades of clinical observations support the notion that retinyl palmitate is safe for use in topical applications such as sunscreens.”

Oxybenzone made headlines after a 2008 CDC study reported that traces of it can be found in urine after topical application. This might sound worrying, and many media outlets certainly reported it as something to be concerned about. But what wasn’t nearly as widely reported was that oxybenzone is safe for full-body application in concentrations of 10%, and that it doesn’t accumulate in the body. What trace amounts are absorbed by skin are rapidly filtered out. In 2010, the Skin Cancer Foundation clarified: “There is no evidence that oxybenzone, which is FDA-approved and has been available for 20 years, has any adverse health effect in humans.”

I am exhausted by bad science journalism. I am exhausted by it.