Buying guide for Sunscreen SPF 15 And Above products
What to look for
Choose products made with ingredients that carry no or low health concerns, as assigned by the GoodGuide Science Team. Buy lotion sunscreens instead of aerosol or spray-on sunscreen products. Look for products that are certified sustainable by Cradle-to-Cradle or as compliant with the standards set by EcoLogo or the Natural Products Association for personal care products. Avoid purchasing products that include oxybenzone or other ingredients with medium or high health concerns, or regulatory bans.
Sunscreen is a $1.85 billion industry in the US. The sun care category is among the fastest growing in skin care overall, supported by growing consumer awareness about the dangers of sun-damaged skin.
When choosing a new sunscreen, consumers generally have two options. A mineral or chemical sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens use active mineral ingredients to reflect the sun’s rays. Chemical sunscreens use a combination of two or more FDA approved active ingredients to absorb the sun’s rays, so your skin doesn’t. There are 16 FDA approved active ingredients for use in sunscreens. Only eight ingredients from the approved list are regularly used, and just two of those offer good UV-A protection.
The eight most commonly used sunscreen ingredients are:
- Chemical ingredients: Oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene
- Mineral ingredients: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide
Some issues associated with sunscreen products include:
Health concerns — Sunscreen ingredients can carry human health concerns. Products with a lower GoodGuide Rating include known allergens, irritants, and suspected carcinogens.
Ingredient disclosure — Complete ingredient lists for sunscreen products are often unavailable, creating a significant barrier to assessing the safety of personal care products. Although companies are required to disclose the ingredients in personal care products, these lists rarely contain information about percent composition (needed to assess potential exposures) and often rely on generic terms like “fragrance”, which make it impossible to assess whether there are any problematic ingredients present.
Contamination concerns — The Food and Drug Administration only requires cosmetic firms to list “intended” ingredients in products, which allows manufacturers to hide the presence of other ingredients from consumers.
Inadequate regulation — Personal care products are not subject to safety reviews by the FDA before they are put on the market, and the agency is frequently criticized for its lax approach to regulation. The European Union, for example, has banned the use of more than 1,000 substances in cosmetics; in contrast, the FDA has only prohibited the use of eight substances in cosmetics. There is widespread skepticism that the current regulatory system is sufficiently protective of human health.
Rating Sunscreen SPF 15 And Above products
To rate a personal care product, GoodGuide considers the following attributes:
- A health hazard rating based on the number of product ingredients categorized as low, medium or high health concern;
- Indicators that the product exhibits other negative aspects (e.g., does the product contain ingredients that have been banned or subjected to regulatory restrictions);
- Indicators that the product is among the best on the market in its category (e.g., has the product been certified as safe or healthy by a credible third-party);
- Indicators of data gaps that preclude evaluation of the product (e.g., no or inadequate disclosure of product ingredients).
Categorizing ingredients by levels of health concern
Defining Levels of Health: In order to identify ingredients of health concern, we utilize the science of health hazard assessment and rely on lists of chemicals labeled hazardous by various authoritative organizations. GoodGuide tracks whether chemicals are recognized or suspected of causing any of twelve major types of human health problems, ranging from cancer to endocrine toxicity to skin or eye toxicity. We combine this hazard data with chemical potency, human detection frequency and toxicity testing information, in order to assign ingredients to four levels of health concern: none, low, medium and high.