The EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens for 2020

by Roki Prunali

EWG 2020 Guide to Sunscreens

In such a tumultuous and uncertain time, a little assurance can go a long way. Summer is here and even if where we will be or what we will be doing may be unknown, we still need the protection of sunscreen to get us through this warm season. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) – the ones we turn to for our Dirty Dozen List – create an annual guide to sunscreens to help us navigate the overcrowded sunscreen market. 


EWG 2020 Guide to Sunscreens 

The FDA relentlessly attempts to obtain stricter laws and hold companies accountable for the products produced by sunscreen brands. While the industry stalls, the FDA continues to make their suggestions and tests for the sunscreen we put on our bodies. New sunscreen tests by EWG show that with just a single application, six commonly used chemical active ingredients were absorbed into the body and that the absorption process continues for days after. Even worse is that these chemicals that are being absorbed in significant amounts that have not been adequately tested for their safety these chemicals can even find their way into the blood. Freaked out yet? These chemicals include Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Octinoxate, and Oxybenzone. 


While there is still a lacking of inconclusive data for most chemicals, the two safe and effective ingredients we can rely on are zinc oxide and titanium oxide. The FDA also recognized two active ingredients that are unsafe and should definitely be avoided. They are PABA and trolamine salicylate – but you will rarely see these in sunscreen anymore. 


The EWG has shared some tips for your summer sunscreen selection :

Make UVA protection a priority

The FDA has made multiple attempts to strengthen UVA protection, but the proposals have not found their way into becoming laws. An acceptable sunscreen will protect you against both the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Both forms of UV radiation may be harmful to the skin, but UVA can penetrate deeper and damage collagen. 

Europe sets a rather high bar, requiring UVA protection to rise in proportion with SPF. In the U.S., the SPF value on the label is in connection to the UVB and not necessarily the UVA protection. The FDA proposes a strengthened UVA standard to go beyond what is required in Europe. 


Avoid Oxybenzone – especially for kids

Oxybenzone is a chemical that still needs more  data and safety tests, but it is still found in more than 40 percent of non-mineral sunscreens on the market. The increasing amount of evidence that this chemical penetrates the skin and could find its way disrupting the hormone system is a call for concern. It is probably best to avoid using sunscreens with this chemical until further tests are conclusive, especially for kids. 

The tests that were completed on Oxybenzone showed the chemical to be allergenic, absorbed through the skin in large amounts, detected in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine, blood, and even as  a potential endocrine disruptor. Children are more at risk because there is a potential for higher absorption and bioaccumulation. 


High SPF products can sometimes mislead consumers

The FDA reports that higher SPF values have not provided an additional clinical benefit misleading consumers to think that they are getting higher coverage. That is why they are trying to cap off the SPF values at 60+. As mentioned earlier, high SPF does not necessarily mean high protection against UVA, so consumers using products with a false sense of security may be exposed to UVA rays. Also, many may think that because they have higher protection, fewer applications should suffice for their coverage. Overall, there is little difference found in sunscreens with 50+ through 100+.


Spray Sunscreens may be on the rise but they are not necessarily effective

The ease of spray sunscreens is unbeatable, especially when you have those wiggling kids that will not sit still for you to properly apply sunscreen. Additional testing is needed for spray sunscreens because they pose a potential inhalation risk and without evenly rubbing it in, the skin may be unevenly distributed leaving you without proper protection. The FDA proposes that all spray and powdered sunscreens are tested to ensure they cannot be inhaled deep into the lungs, which may cause severe damage. If you choose to use spray sunscreens, please check the labeling.  

So, be sure to check out your sunscreen labels  and keep in mind these precautions. If you want extra safety during sun time, you can cover up with clothing, seek shade, and plan your day around the sun to avoid when it will be strongest. 


12 Sunscreens from the EWG 2020 Guide to Sunscreen list:

Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen Lotion, Fragrance-Free, SPF 30

Banana Boat Kids Sport Sunscreen Stick, SPF 50+

Burt’s Bees Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30

Coppertone Water Babies Pure & Simple Sunscreen Stick, SPF 50

Avene Mineral Sunscreen Fluid, SPF 50+

JASON Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Gentle Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50

Neutrogena Clear Body Breakout Free Oil-Free Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30

Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion, For Sensitive Skin & Children, SPF 50+

Supergoop! Sunny Screen Lotion, Babies + Kiddos, SPF 50

Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen For Body, SPF 30

thinkbaby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50


While I do personally use and love most of the sunscreens on the list, I had a hard time finding a sunscreen dedicated specifically for people of color. While most of these sunscreens from the list are fine for different skin tones, they tend to leave a white cast residue. I happened to stumble across Black Girl Sunscreen, which leaves no residue behind and does not contain harmful chemicals that EWG tells us to stay away from, like Oxybenzone. It also has a line for kids. So if you are looking for a sunscreen specifically for people of color, I would also recommend this brand.  


Photo from Beste Zeybel 


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