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Sunscreens have improved. Which is best?

July 18, 2009 |  9:00 am

Sunscreen There are plenty of sunscreens on the market to choose from, but which is best? The nonprofit Environmental Working Group has waged a three-year campaign to improve the efficacy of sunscreens and recently released its 2009 report.

The biggest improvement cited in the report is that 70% of sunscreens now contain strong UVA filters compared withjust 29% last year. Many sunscreens protect against the sun's UVB radiation, but UVA can be just as harmful. The group also found that 19% fewer sunscreens contain oxybenzone, a chemical that is allowed in sunscreens but which the Environmental Working Group and other organizations say is unsafe because it can disrupt hormones in the body.

Still, three of five sunscreens either don't protect the skin from sun damage or contain hazardous chemicals or both, the report states. The group argues that the Food and Drug Administration has not published "meaningful sunscreen standards" even though it promised to do so back in 1978 "when gasoline was 63 cents a gallon and the Bee Gees' 'Saturday Night Fever' topped the charts."

The report also evaluates daily moisturizers and lip balms with SPF ratings. The Environmental Working Group found that one in five daily moisturizers that advertise SPF protection actually offer little UVA protection. Among lip balms, two in five offer poor UVA protection.

The group's panel of scientists, policy experts and computer analysts perused scientific data, legal documents and conducted their own tests to examine 1,572 sunscreens currently on the market. The complete list of top-ranking products can be found on the Environmental Working Group's website. Here's a snippet of the top three in each category.

Best sunscreens:

  • Badger Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Trukid Sunny Days Facestick Mineral Sunscreen UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum, SPF 30+
  • Purple Prairie Botanicals Sun Stuff, SPF 30

Best moisturizers with SPF:

  • Keys Soap Solar Rx Cosmetic Moisturizing Sunblock, SPF 30
  • Marie Veronique Organics Creme de Jour Tinted, SPF 30, no nanoparticles
  • Devita International Daily Solar Protective Moisturizer 30

Best lip balms with SPF:

  • Purple Prairie Botanicals sunstick lip balm, SPF 30
  • UV Natural Lip screen, SPF 30+
  • Fallene CotzLipCotz, Ultra High Sun Protection, SPF 45

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Mary Godleski  / AP