EWG: UVA Protection of Most Sunscreens Just 25 Percent of Touted SPF

October 19, 2021

EWG's research found that most sunscreens provided just 42 to 59 percent of the labeled SPF.

Many sunscreens offer just a quarter of their stated SPF protection against ultraviolet A rays, a new Environmental Working Group (EWG) study finds.

For the study, EWG scientists tested 51 sunscreens with SPF between 15 and 110 to assess their broad-spectrum protection against both types of UV rays. Scientists used UV-absorption testing and compared those results with computer-modeled protection and the SPF values on product labels. 

On average, sunscreens tested in a laboratory but not on people provided just 24 percent of UVA protection, compared to the labeled SPF value.  Most sunscreens provided just 42 to 59 percent of the labeled SPF. 

“Most of the products we tested reduced UV radiation only by half of what would be expected from looking at the SPF on the label,” says study author David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG, in a news release.

The new research is published in Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine.

“Even more concerning is the lack of adequate broad-spectrum protection, and that’s a public health problem,” Andrews says. “Broad spectrum products provide protection from UVA rays that are associated with skin cancer, free radical generation and immune harm. 

“The sunscreen industry has for too long focused on advertising higher and higher SPF values and UVB rays, not on providing products with stronger UVA protection,” he says.

“Most sunscreen products sold in the U.S. don’t offer adequate protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” adds Carla Burns, senior director of cosmetic science at EWG and one of the new study’s coauthors. 

For years, EWG has warned consumers about the safety and efficacy of sunscreens. U.S. store shelves have products that overstate their sun protection claims based on UVB, or sunburn, reduction – without providing similar UVA protection,” Burns says. 

“Balanced protection of ultraviolet radiation is important because of the long-term health issues linked to UV exposure – especially harmful UVA rays, which are linked to immunotoxicity and skin cancers,” she adds.

Most evaluations of sunscreen efficacy focus primarily on skin redness, or sunburn, caused by UVB rays. Current U.S. regulations ignore the relationship between the labeled SPF and measured UVA protection.

 “Sunscreen products must be effective, and the ingredients should not cause health harm. Our study shows that sunscreens are not adequately effective, especially at reducing UVA radiation, and the ingredients used in these products have not been fully vetted for safety,” says Andrews. 

 “An overhaul of sunscreen products and how they are regulated is long overdue. But sunscreens are still important tools in reducing UV exposure – it’s just that some products are better than others,” he adds. 

FDA renews call for data from sunscreen makers

 In September, the FDA released its proposed order detailing lingering concerns about sunscreens. Because of safety uncertainties about the active ingredients in their products, including oxybenzone, the agency also renewed a call for data from manufacturers. 

 “Sunscreen chemicals like oxybenzone pose significant health concerns, but the sunscreen industry continues to bury its head in the sand,” says Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “We’re grateful the FDA continues to demand basic data on the health effects of these chemicals.”  

EWG guide identifies sufficiently protective sunscreens 

In May 2021, EWG researchers rated the safety and efficacy of more than 1,800 products that advertise sun protection – including recreational sunscreens, daily-use SPF products and lip balms with SPF. They found that only a quarter of the products reviewed offer adequate protection and do not contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone.

“The sunscreen market is flooded with products that provide poor UVA protection,” says Faber. “Sunscreen sales have increased dramatically, so sunscreen companies can certainly afford to conduct the studies needed to ensure their customers are safe.” 

EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens can help consumers find sufficiently protective products made without ingredients that may pose health concerns. EWG’s sunscreen label decoder can also help consumers looking for safer sunscreens.

Facebook Comments


We’re glad to see you’re enjoying PracticalDermatology…
but how about a more personalized experience?

Register for free