EWG’s Sunscreen Report – Helpful or Harmful?

By Kristie Turck •  Published 05/26/11 •  6 min read

Last updated on July 24th, 2022 at 11:00 am

Ok so I don’t usually do this but I am going to write an opinion piece here today.  As you know I recently released my Sunscreen Cheat Sheet where I check out various natural brands of sunscreen, inspect the ingredients, write to the manufacturers to confirm the information, and compile my list of recommendations.  Yes, I recommend these brands because I feel they display exemplary ingredient lists and are far less harmful than most commercial brands.

The EWG releases its own Sunscreen Report each year and this year was no exception.  Each year I am a little surprised by their choices and I was a bit flabbergasted by their report this year I’m going to tell you why.  Most importantly, I am challenging you, my readers to not take one organization’s word for it.  I try to provide my cheat sheets to save you time, yes.  But I firmly believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to take time when you have it to question things and learn more about what you put on your body.  So moving on…

I do not agree with some of the EWG’s Top Sunscreens. You’re probably thinking “Who does she think she is? she’s just a MOM, they are scientists, she has no clue.” And you are partially right except for the clue part.  I’ve been inspecting sunscreens for years and while I have never been in a laboratory to test the effectiveness of any sunscreen, I do know that there are ingredients we should avoid and ingredients I do not allow in any products I recommend.  What bother’s me about some of the brands EWG selected to put in their Top Sunscreens list is twofold.

  1. They use the words “top-rated”. If they lumped it all into one list and said “Here you go, make your own decision!” which is basically what they told me when I asked them about their choices in their live chat on Facebook yesterday, I wouldn’t be so picky.  But they listed these brands as Top Sunscreens citing they are the “right choice”.  That leads me to believe (and others who trust them I’m sure) that they support those brands and the ingredients in them.  I think this is a reckless thing to do for an organization that has so much available to them and such a wide audience listening.  When I pressed them about including a product (Blue Lizard) that contains 3 parabens, fragrance/phthalates, PEGs, propylene glycol, and other chemicals, they informed me that “Sunscreen ratings differ from other Skin Deep ratings in that sun protection accounts for 2/3rds of the score, and ingredient hazards for 1/3. This is because of the known harmful effects of UV. We show the health score on every product page so people can incorporate this information into their decisions.” I feel that this should be more apparent to the readers looking over their lists.  Had they not singled a selection of products as a “top-rated” list I might not argue too much.  Let people decide based on the ingredients for each product.  This leads me to my next point…
  2. Many people trust them and their recommendations because they share so much useful knowledge. Their sunscreen report is the one everyone is looking to (save for the handful of people who use mine!) and the one everyone refers to.  Some people might assume, that because one Blue Lizard product is on their Top Sunscreen list the entire brand is “safe”.  People tend not to read through pages and pages of material before making decisions.  They should but let’s be real.  They don’t – which is why I try to keep things on SafeMama as compact and accessible as possible. So my fear is that someone perusing the Top Sunscreens list will go on to assume that all Blue Lizard products are safe because that product was recommended by the Environmental Working Group. The products in question are the only mineral sunscreens in the entire line of products – the rest of the Blue Lizards brand uses the chemical that EWG has blacklisted –  oxybenzone and other non-mineral sunscreens. Another example is the BabyGanics sunscreen which contains phenoxyethanol, PEG’s and has a few chemical sunscreening ingredients as well.

Now, I am not disparaging the entire report.  They do say the list is for “people who are looking for the best UVA protection without any sunscreen chemical considered to be a potential hormone disruptor“, so they aren’t right out saying “these are the safest products overall”  But what is the point if there are other hormone disrupting ingredients plaguing the contents? Doesn’t that negate some of the purposes? It’s confusing to me, so someone who is not familiar with looking for safe products, or deciphering ingredients, will make other assumptions.  I think it’s only half of the story and they are missing an opportunity to really promote products that are safe all around.

There are some GREAT brands on the list, brands that I support and list on my own Cheat Sheet so all is not lost.  I just think they should be a bit more selective. They have a WEALTH of valuable information in the report and they explain their methodology and provide far more information than I ever could alone.  They are an awesome resource for those who want to know more and I support the organization.  But some of their picks are confusing to me based on what they are telling us is safe.

My last issue is the intense focus on sunscreen this time of year.  I get more emails and comments about sunscreen than anything else.  And unless you live in an area where you use it year-round, I think people’s concern is misplaced. We should be focusing our “paranoia” on the products we use on our skin every single day.  Not something that we use for a couple of months out of the whole year. Is it important to scrutinize our sunscreens? Yes! But I think we should be this riled up about all body care products as much as we are about sunscreen.

I welcome your comments and criticism of my opinion.  As a disclaimer, I don’t know everything and I don’t claim to.  But I know enough to want things to be better.