New Clean Label Project Study of 95 Sunscreens from 33 Brands Reveals Surprise Findings Regarding Antioxidants and Use of the Term Baby on Label

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The new independent study tested 95 sunscreens from 33 best-selling brands and had several surprise findings. Some sunscreens had high levels of beneficial antioxidants, certified organic sunscreens contained three times as much lead, and the use of “baby” appeared to be just a marketing term.

sunscreen, heavy metals, product contamination, health, fitness, nutrition, consumer affairs, skincare, beauty & grooming

Denver-based nonprofit Clean Label Project’s mission is to bring truth and transparency to consumer product labeling through the use of data and science.

“Sun exposure causes cancer, so you should absolutely use sunscreen, but the testing reveals results that you wouldn’t find on the label,” said Jackie Bowen, MPH, MS, Clean Label Project’s executive director.

A new independent study released today by the Clean Label Project™, a national nonprofit focused on health and transparency in consumer product labeling, shows a wide variation in the contents of America’s top-selling sunscreen brands. The nonprofit purchased 95 mineral and chemical-based sunscreens from 33 of the most popular brands based on the Amazon.com best-seller list. Results revealed some surprise findings.

The word “baby” on a sunscreen’s label appears to be nothing more than a marketing term based on laboratory testing results. Widely varying concentrations of heavy metals and sulfates also were uncovered during the testing process.

Antioxidants, which fight the sun’s harmful effects, were found in varying degrees in different sunscreens. The study found:

  •     A correlation exists between higher priced sunscreens and increased antioxidant activity.
  •     “Baby” sunscreens didn’t perform any better in antioxidant activity on average than sunscreens marketed to the general population.

It was unclear what differentiates “baby” sunscreen, as products labeled “baby” weren’t cleaner, more effective, or made from different ingredients. Additionally:

  •     Baby sunscreens averaged 99 parts per billion of lead.
  •     If a baby ingested .017 ounces (the size that fits on the surface of a dime) of any of the 5 worst-testing sunscreens, they would ingest lead in excess of the daily limit of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.

Sunscreens also were tested for heavy metals, sulfates and efficacy. Results showed:

  •     Certified organic sunscreens contain three times as much lead but didn’t contain oxybenzone (an endocrine disruptor).
  •     Lotions have 60% less sulfates (possible skin irritants) than spray sunscreens.
  •     Chemical-based sunscreens have 95% less lead than other sunscreens, but contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals recently banned in Hawaii because they are believed to cause harm to marine life and coral reefs.
  •     Chemical and mineral-based sunscreens have nearly identical results from a performance perspective, although wide variability in efficacy was observed even within the same SPF.

“Sun exposure causes cancer, so you should absolutely use sunscreen, but the testing reveals results that you wouldn’t find on the label,” said Jackie Bowen, MPH, MS, Clean Label Project’s executive director.

“Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are two of over 1,000 chemicals with endocrine disruption properties,” said Carol Kwiatkowski, Ph.D., executive director of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange. “We believe preventing exposure to harmful chemicals is a path to good health.”

“Skincare safety starts in childhood, and parents should always look to use sunscreen, but should be diligent in its application,” said Roy G. Geronemus, M.D., a leading New York City dermatologist and director of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York.

“Sunscreen is an important component of summer safety,” said leading New York City dermatologist Jacqueline Beer, M.D. “Work with your dermatologist or family doctor to discuss any concerns you may have when it comes to protection from the sun’s rays.”

Visit https://www.cleanlabelproject.org/sunscreen/ for detailed information about this study.

About Clean Label Project
Denver-based nonprofit Clean Label Project’s mission is to bring truth and transparency to consumer product labeling through the use of data and science. To Clean Label Project, sometimes what’s NOT on the label is ultimately what’s most important. Education is its core initiative. Visit cleanlabelproject.org to learn more. Clean Label Project. Clean. Pure. Science.®

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