Beware of Sunscreens in Hall of Shame

EWG’s Sunscreen Hall of Shame

Last week we discussed that the Food and Drug Administration has not finalized sunscreen safety standards since 1978. Therefore the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has reviewed the latest research on sunscreen. (Just type EWG in our search to see the other articles on the topic).

Despite the unknowns about sunscreen efficacy, public health agencies still recommend using sunscreens, just not as your first line of defense against the sun. The EWG recommends using sunscreens, but also look for shade, wear protective clothing, and avoid the noontime sun before relying solely on suntan lotions.

Here is just some of the EWG Sunscreen Hall of Shame:
Banana Boat Baby Max Protect, SPF 100
Sky-high SPF protects against sunburn but leaves skin exposed to damaging UVA rays. This is just one of at least 79 sunscreens on the market this year with high SPFs (greater than SPF 50+), this product protects babies from UVB radiation and the sunburns it causes but leaves them exposed to UVA radiation that penetrates deep into the skin. UVA is known to accelerate skin aging and cause skin cancer (IARC 2009).

A standard industry sunscreen model estimates that the actual UVA protection factor for this sunscreen is only 9.3 – a far cry from 100 (BASF 2010). The best possible UVA protection in U.S. sunscreen lotions is currently about 20 (BASF 2010).

Sunscreen makers are waiting for the FDA to decide whether to approve a wider selection of chemicals that could help boost UVA protection. In the meantime, high-SPF products may tempt people to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburns but upping the risks of other kinds of skin damage. EWG recommends that consumers avoid products labeled with anything higher than “SPF 50+” and reapply sunscreen often, regardless of SPF.

Hawaiian Tropic Baby Creme Lotion SPF 50
Advanced UVA protection”? Not so much. Many U.S. sunscreens claim to provide “broad spectrum” protection that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, but the reality is that they don’t. Hawaiian Tropic Baby Creme Lotion SPF 50 lists “Advanced UVA protection” on its web site and “UVB/SPF with UVA” on its label. But it would earn only 1 star in FDA’s proposed 4 star UVA labeling scheme, according to EWG analysis using a standard industry sunscreen model.

Hawaiian Tropic is not required to back up its claim of “advanced UVA protection,” and the fact is that no currently available sunscreen chemical has been shown to block UVA rays effectively. Regulations in Japan and Australia prohibit making such claims altogether for products that provide such weak UVA protection (Diffey 2009), but there is no such restriction in the U.S.

Based on a review of partial label information published by online retailers, EWG researchers identified 218 beach sunscreens that claim “broad spectrum” or “full spectrum” protection for 2010. Many would garner only “low” or “medium” UVA protection in FDA’s proposed labeling system.

Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection SPF 55
Mild as water.” Sure it is.
Can a product be “mild as water to the skin” if the label warns to “Stop use and ask a doctor if rash or irritation develops and lasts”? And certainly when swallowed this product is nothing like water: “Keep out of reach of children” and “get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away,” reads the warning label.

Panama Jack Naturals Baby Sunblock SPF 50
Potential hormone disruptor in baby sunblock.
Panama Jack advises users of this baby product to “apply liberally.”

Scientists who have researched a key sunscreen chemical in this sunblock, the potential hormone disruptor oxybenzone, advise the opposite: “It would be prudent not to apply oxybenzone to large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods of time, unless no alternative protection is available. There may be an additional concern for young children who have less well developed processes of elimination, and have a larger surface area per body weight than adults, with respect to systemic availability of a topically applied dose” (Hayden 1997).

Oxybenzone is readily absorbed through the skin; government studies have detected the compound in 97 percent of the population (Calafat 2008). In rodents, it mimics estrogen and increases the weight of the uterus (Schlumpf 2004). In people, higher maternal exposures to oxybenzone have been linked to decreased birth weight in girls (Wolff 2008).
This Panama Jack sunscreen is one of at least 26 sunscreens offered in the 2010 season with the word “baby” in their name and the chemical oxybenzone on their ingredient list. EWG advises consumers to avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone. Plenty of safer products are available.
One more thing: This so-called “natural” sunscreen contains at least ten compounds that do not occur in nature. Most are made from petroleum

Baby Blanket Tender Scalps Scalp Sunscreen Spray for Babies SPF 45+

“Instantly provides 45 times your babies’ natural protection,” claims the manufacturer. While that may be true for UVB rays and the red burns and blisters they cause, it’s not the case for UVA. This product would earn only one of four stars for UVA protection in FDA’s proposed rating system, according to EWG’s analysis. Your baby’s scalp may not get burned, but UVA rays could instantly penetrate deeply and cause skin damage and trigger cancer later in life. At least 18 other products EWG assessed claim “instant” or “immediate” protection.

For more EWG Hall of Shame please click here.


  1. This is freaking me out. My charges house has 3 of these sunscreens! I can't beleive it! Why hasn't the FDA regulated these products! Skin cancer is real. This is insane!

  2. Yes we do have some of the pink labeled products in the home too. I have been putting it on the older children too. Ugh, why doesn't this country regulate the manufacturing of products? Haven't we seen what lack of regulation has done alreay? Wall St, Oil industry, car industry, health industry….

  3. umm not to be rude but the oil company au pair Deb T is referring to is a British company. But I understand your logic. I don't disagree with it. We are using the products on kids so must be regulated.

  4. Anonymous, doesn't matter that it's a british company if it's in this country we have to regulate it. Good resources as usualy BTBN.

  5. Why is it the same thing every monday morning? I am just one adult who juggles the four kids and can maintain the home while providing excellent nanny care. So, why is it every weekend two adult parents can't do the basics. You would think they could wash their own adult dishes, put away what they bought on the weekend??? Instead they leave it to me as if I am a maid or slave! I don't expect them to do the kids laundry, that's my job. But, they can't even put away dishes? I am welcomed by an overwhelming tornado each Monday. It's exhausting.

  6. Why isn't this info all over the media and this is the first I am seeing this? I'm scared to do anything now, BPA, lead, pesticides….

  7. Good information, thanks for directing us to the link.

  8. We have the Baby Blanket and Banana Boat brands that are specifically listed here. I threw them out. I will show parents this tonight. Even with these products in the house the baby got a sunburn this weekend (on the parents time not mine). Very frustrating for me to see that.

  9. This is very disturbing to me. I am glad the FDA will have regulations in place in Oct 2010. We really do only rely on marketing and trusting the packaging instead of understanding the labels. Thanks for stellar resource. I threw out most of my charge's sunscreen this morning and will purchase new today (mom boss and I are going to re-stock using this list). There is also a I-PHONE app with this list so you can bring it with you to the store when purchasing suncare products.

  10. Thank you I showed this series to my employers and we have purchased senstive skin recommendations listed on the EWG site and they are great products. The toddler was getting rashes. I thought it was prickly heat but then realized probably allergic reaction to a chemical in sunscreen. We have been using California Baby recommended on EWG site and works great. The kids are happy to use it because I told them it's the best kind.Susie G., Philly

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