The EWG (Environmental Working Group) in the US has just published their findings from an extensive 18 month analysis of suncare products on the market in the US. It provides a great summary of the safety and effectiveness of suncare products and sunscreens and the formulations different brands producted.
Whilst their methodolgy does lead to approximations that scew the findings a little on individual products, their summary on the ingredients used as sunscreens is very informing. Incidentally products that came out on top for effectiveness at protecting skin from UV-B and UV-A and ingredient safety included organic brands Lavera and Badger. Meanwhile suncare products flagged as providing insufficient UV-A protection included products by brands such as Avon, Neutrogena and Murad.
Here are some exerts from the EWG report:
"No one understands the health implications of our exposures to complex mixtures of low doses of industrial compounds and pollutants: remarkably, federal [US] health standards do not require companies to test their products for safety before they are sold, including nearly all chemicals in sunscreen and other personal care products, and the federal government approves new chemicals for the market using computer models to predict if they are toxic to humans. These are particularly risky methods given the many studies showing that these pollutants cross the placenta to contaminate babies even before the moment of birth, including a recent study conducted by EWG finding an average of 200 chemicals in umbilical cord blood from 10 newborn babies.
Some sunscreens absorb into the blood and raise safety concerns.
Some sunscreens absorb into the blood and raise safety concerns. Our review of the technical literature shows that some sunscreen ingredients absorb into the blood, and some are linked to toxic effects. Some release skin-damaging free radicals in sunlight, some act like estrogen and could disrupt hormone systems, several are strongly linked to allergic reactions, and still others may build up in the body or the environment. FDA has not established rigorous safety standards for sunscreen ingredients.
Micronized and nano-scale zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreen provide strong UVA protection, and are contained in many of our top-rated products. Repeated studies have found that these ingredients do not penetrate healthy skin, indicating that consumers' exposures would be minimal.
Some sunscreens break down quickly in the sun, becoming ineffective.
It may seem counterintuitive, but of the 17 "active ingredients" that FDA has approved for use as sunscreens in the U.S., at least 4 of them break down significantly when they are exposed to sunlight. They lose their ability to absorb the sun's harmful rays, and stop working effectively in as little as 30 minutes, ranging up to several hours. They require stabilizing chemicals to remain effective.
An ideal sunscreen would be stable in the sun. Instead, nearly every active ingredient (all but zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) [Lula: these are the active sunscreens used in the sun care products we stock at LoveLula] works by first absorbing the sun's energy so it doesn't penetrate our skin, and then releasing that captured energy by breaking apart, reacting with other chemicals in the sunscreen, or even kicking off free radicals. Some active ingredients are more stable than others, but nearly all break down to some extent in the sun."
Read the EWG report for yourself here