Editor’s Note: This story cites the Environmental Working Group, an organization that has been known to exaggerate harms and promote the pseudoscientific claim that mercury in vaccines causes autism. Therefore, all of the information below should be taken with a grain of salt. We have edited this article to remove EWG’s claims that two ingredients found in many sunscreens—oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate—are dangerous for humans, because it is the consensus of physicians and scientists that these ingredients are safe. We have also edited this article to remove EWG’s claim that sunscreens don’t actually prevent skin cancer, as this is patently false.
Just in time for the beach weather, the Environmental Working Group released its tenth annual sunscreen guide, and if the sun didn’t already burn you, the report’s findings will. First a bit of good news: Since the report started in 2007, the ingredients in sunscreens have been getting safer, the labeling has become clearer, and false claims like “sweatproof” and “waterproof” have been banned. The bad news: Of the products EWG reviewed, they had “serious concerns” about 750 of them. That’s way more than a CVS aisle-worth.
Of those 750, 37 kids products got a rating of 7 to 10 (higher isn’t better), and there are 13 you wouldn’t slather on your worst enemy’s kid. Remember the Coppertone baby? Let’s just say that that particular brand of sunscreen isn’t saving her ass. Here’s the quick guide to what you need to know:
• SPF Values Are Pretty Much Made Up — At least above 50, which is where the Food and Drug Administration says SPF benefits max out. The European Commission, Japan, and Australia all ban higher numbers. America has seen a rise in product over SPF 70, from 10 in 2007 to 61 in 2010.
• Sprays Are The Worst — The FDA says aerosol may not be a safe or effective delivery method as it can easily push sunscreen chemicals into the lungs, which is not where they’re supposed to go. But did you listen? No, because there’s been a 25 percent increase in spray sunscreens. Also, there’s also no data suggesting that sprays provide the necessary coverage on dry skin, let alone your squirmy, fresh-from-the-ocean kid.
Before you go all, “You had ONE job, sunscreen!” the guide does offer some 200+ quality options. To arrive at their recommendations, EWG rated products on 5 factors: Health hazards, UVB protection, UVA protection, balance of UVB and UVA protection, and sunscreen stability. Those ratings were dumped into a formula and judged by a 9-person panel of scientists, consumer analysts, and other super smart data nerds. So if you’re determined to hit the beach or, you know, let your kid play outside this summer (you rebel, you), these are your best options: