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EWG 2010 Sunscreen Report – Sunscreen For Dummies

Bob Root, Keys CTO

It is that time of year again when the various sunscreen reports come out.

The Environmental Working Group 2010 Sunscreen Report is out a couple of months early.

Once again, Keys Solar Rx receives great marks in the Moisturizer with SPF category.

I offer the title above with a great deal of respect for this years EWG 2010 Sunscreen Report.  I use the colloquial title because for the first time I feel there is a report that we can all read and understand.  Good on ya EWG for making something that we can read and learn as well as drill down for the details.

This year there are some interesting changes in the report that might not be very apparent, so I will try to hit some highlights to simplify it for you.  Most notable is that the ranking system is gone and it is a very clear, concise easy to read educational document.

Sunscreen Categories

A couple of years ago, we urged the EWG to revise the categories for sun protection products.  Last year there were two categories listed.  One for Beach and Sports and the other more cosmetic daily use products.  This year they have expanded the categories to include.  Adding two additional categories also helped to keep the list for each shorter and easier to read

  • Beach and Sports Sunscreens
  • SPF Lip Balm
  • SPF Moisturizers (Keys Category)
  • SPF Makeup

Ranking System Gone

I for one was very pleased at this because too many companies used the ranking system to market their products.  We were even guilty of this, but we justified it because everyone elese was doing it.  Not a good reason.  This year, the safety ratings are shown next to the products in alphabetical order.  Last year if you had a lower score than others, you appeared at the top of the list.  This year the list is safest in alphabetical order.  This will give you a more fair view of what is available.  So, we finally have a safety rating system without a ranking system.  This is much clearer when you look at the report.

Top Sun Tips

This page was highly modified to be simple and concise.  It begins with ingredients to avoid and those to look for.  Zinc tops the yes list which is what we use and is the most tested of the broad spectrum ingredients.  Specifically, we use uncoated zinc oxide for its more even and full coverage of UVA, UVB and UVC spectrums.  They express concern for ingredients like Oxybenzone and Retinyl Palmitate (an estered Vitamin A), but mention Mexoryl as a safe ingredient.  From my best understanding is that Mexoryl is a combination of Oxyzbenzone and Avobenzone, so there is a bit of incongruity that I will research and report back.

We are very pleased that they have included a subcategory that promotes covering up, wearing a hat and sunglasses with sun protection on exposed skin.  90% of all visible skin aging is caused by UV radiation.  Also, covering up and wearing sunblock is really a skin cancer prevention plan and you should always keep that in mind.

This section also includes some guidelines for kids, toddlers and teens.  All are written in a concise manner.

Herein is a reprint of the section.

The sun’s ultraviolet rays cause skin cancer. Protect yourself and your family with these 3 simple steps when you are out having fun.

1. Quick tips for a good sunscreen.

Don’t- No Do!- Yes
Ingredients Oxybenzone
Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate)
Added insect repellent
Titanium dioxide
Avobenzone or Mexoryl SX
Products Sprays
SPF above 50+
Broad-spectrum protection
Water-resistant for beach, pool & exercise
SPF 30+ for beach & pool

2. But first things first – do these before applying sunscreen.

The best defenses against getting too much harmful UV radiation are protective clothes, shade and timing. Check out checklist:

Don’t get burned. Red, sore, blistered (then peeling) skin is a clear sign you’ve gotten far too much sun. Sunburn increases skin cancer risk – keep your guard up!
Wear clothes. Shirts, hats, shorts and pants shield your skin from the sun’s UV rays – and don’t coat your skin with goop. A long-sleeved surf shirt is a good start.
Find shade – or make it. Picnic under a tree, read beneath an umbrella, take a canopy to the beach. Keep infants in the shade – they lack tanning pigments (melanin) to protect their skin.
Plan around the sun. If your schedule is flexible, go outdoors in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky. UV radiation peaks at midday, when the sun is directly overhead.
Sunglasses are essential. Not just a fashion accessory, sunglasses protect your eyes from UV radiation, a cause of cataracts.

3. Now put on sunscreen – here are the essentials, beyond the quick tips.

Some sunscreens prevent sunburn but not other types of skin damage. Make sure yours provides broad-spectrum protection and follow our other tips for better protection.

Don’t be fooled by a label that boasts of high SPF. Anything higher than “SPF 50+” can tempt you to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburn but not other kinds of skin damage. FDA says these numbers are misleading. Stick to SPF 15-50+, reapply often and pick a product based on your own skin, time planned outside, shade and cloud cover.
News about Vitamin A. Eating vitamin A-laden vegetables is good for you, but spreading vitamin A on the skin may not be. New government data show that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with vitamin A-laced creams. Vitamin A, listed as “retinyl palmitate” on the ingredient label, is in 41 percent of sunscreens. Avoid them.  (Vitamin A in plant-based ingredients — Some plant-based ingredients contain compounds related to vitamin A, the vast majority of which are carotenes (in a large chemical class called carotenoids) that are converted to Vitamin A in the body. These ingredients include avocado oil, shea butter, carrot oil and other plant-based oils. Some product labels list these ingredients as a source of vitamin A. There is no evidence that these sources of vitamin A present concerns for accelerated development of tumors and lesions that have been demonstrated for retinyl palmitate. In plant oils, levels of these compounds are far lower than the levels of retinyl palmitate tested in the lab, and carotenoids have not been shown to be a concern whether ingested with plant foods (for example, in carrots or avocados) or when applied on the skin.)
Ingredients matter. Avoid the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and contaminates the body. Look for active ingredients zinc, titanium, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. These substances protect skin from harmful UVA radiation and remain on the skin, with little if any penetrating into the body. Also, skip sunscreens with insect repellent – if you need bug spray, buy it separately and apply it first.
Pick a good sunscreen. EWG’s sunscreen database rates the safety and efficacy of about 1,400 products with SPF, including about 500 sunscreens for beach and sports. We give high ratings to brands that provide broad-spectrum, long-lasting protection with ingredients that pose fewer health concerns when the body absorbs them
Cream, spray or powder – and how often? Sprays and powders cloud the air with tiny particles of sunscreen that may not be safe to breathe. Choose creams instead. Reapply them often, because sunscreen chemicals break apart in the sun, wash off and rub off on towels and clothing.
Message for men: Wear sunscreen. Surveys show that 34 percent of men wear sunscreen, compared to 78 percent of women. Start using it now to reduce your cumulative lifetime exposure to damaging UV radiation.
Got your Vitamin D? Many people don’t get enough vitamin D, which skin manufactures in the presence of sunlight. Your doctor can test your level and recommend supplements or a few minutes of sun daily on your bare skin (without sunscreen).

Sun Safety Tips For Kids

Kids are more vulnerable to sun damage. A few blistering sunburns in childhood can double a person’s lifetime chances of developing serious forms of skin cancer. The best sunscreen is a hat and shirt. After that, protect kids with a sunscreen that’s effective and safe. Take these special precautions with infants and children:


Infants under 6 months should be kept out of direct sun as much as possible. Their skin is not yet protected by melanin. So when you take your baby outside :

  • Cover up with protective clothing, tightly woven but loose-fitting, and a sun hat.
  • Make shade with a stroller’s canopy or hood. If you can’t sit in a shady spot, put up an umbrella.
  • Avoid midday sun — take walks in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Follow product warnings for sunscreen on infants under 6 months old – Most manufacturers advise against using sunscreens on infants or urge parents and caregivers to consult a doctor first. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that small amounts of sunscreen can be used on infants as a last resort when shade can’t be found.

Toddlers and Children

Sunscreen plays an essential part of any day in the sun. However, young children’s skin is especially sensitive to chemical allergens as well as the sun’s UV rays. When choosing a sunscreen, keep these tips in mind:

  • Test the sunscreen by applying a small amount on the inside of your child’s wrist the day before you plan to use it. If an irritation or rash develops, try another product. Ask your child’s doctor to suggest a product less likely to irritate a child’s skin.
  • Slop on sunscreen and reapply often, especially if your child is playing in the water or sweating a lot.
  • Choose your own sunscreen for daycare and school. Some childcare facilities provide sunscreen for the kids, but you can bring your own if you prefer a safer, more effective brand. Share EWG’s safe sunscreen tips and product suggestions with your child’s caregiver.

Sun Safety at School

Sometimes school and daycare policies interfere with children’s sun safety. Many schools treat sunscreen as a medicine and require the child have written permission to use it. Some insist that the school nurse apply it. Other schools ban hats and sunglasses on campus. Here are a few questions to ask your school:

  • What is the policy on sun safety?
  • Is there shade on the playground?
  • Are outdoor activities scheduled to avoid midday sun?


Teenagers coveting bronzed skin are likely to sunbathe, patronize tanning salons or buy self-tanning products. Not good ideas. Researchers believe increasing UV exposure may have caused the marked increase in melanoma incidence among women born after 1965. Tanning parlors expose the skin to as much as 15 times the UV radiation of the sun and likely contributed to melanoma increases. Many chemicals in self-tanning products have not been tested for safety; the major self-tanning chemical, dihydroxyacetone, is not approved by FDA for use in cosmetics around the eyes.

Tan does not mean healthy. Here are a few more tips for teens:

  • Make sunscreen a habit for every outdoor sport and activity.
  • Find sun-protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses that you like to wear.
  • To parents of teens: Be good role models – let your teen see you protecting yourself from the sun.

Find Your Sunscreen

This section of the report gives you a chance to lookup your brand of sun protection to see how it ranks on safety.  This is an alphabetical listing and is much easier to use than the past reports.

Sunscreens Exposed

This category lists various things to be concerned about or aware of  when looking at sun protection.  As usual, there is some controversy in what they say regarding certain topics.  The one that I agree with the most takes a shot at the FDA for not setting new standards for UVA and UVB protection.  The antiquated SPF system only ranks UVB.  Yes, those SPF number that you read about are only testing protection from the burning rays.  Remember what we say.  UVA are the aging rays and UVB are the burning rays.  Think of it this way, when the skin begins to burn, that is your early warning to get out of the sun before those UVA rays attack the collagen in the skin.  So, if you use a sunscreen or block that gives a higher burning protection than UVA protection, you have defeated the purpose of having broad spectrum protection.  We actually believe that UVA protection should be much higher than UVB so that you know when to get out of the sun.  Before damage occurs.  Keys has adopted the EU standard called Boots Star which actually covers both spectrums of UVA and UVB.  We also list the SPF UVB ranking on the labels as well.  Like the EWG, we think we have waited long enough for the FDA to come out with a current standard.  We say, why not just adopt what the rest of the world has embraced.

The Hall of Shame

This section is what it sounds like.  Here the EWG has taken on some companies and the FDA.  If you want to read this, I would recommend the next category section called “The Full Report.”  I recommend reading the full report so that you can put everything in context and keep it that way

The Ultimate Goal- My Take

Being informed and protecting yourself and your family from skin cancer and premature aging.  This year’s report is a leap forward from a number of aspects.  Mainly it is clear and concise with backup data and information.  It is not without controversy or some confusing points.  Much better than before and always a work in process.  All-in-all, I give the report high marks as a great tool for personal safety.

I will keep adding to this article as questions come about or I think of new things that I feel are important.



The EWG 2010 Sunscreen Report

Link to Keys Solar Rx

Full Comments on Retinyl Palmitate  (which we do not use)

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