Demystifying NGO Concerns about Sunscreen

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Canada’s David Suzuki Foundation are just two NGOs raising concerns about sunscreens, or SPF products. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released the report “Sunscreens Exposed: Nine Surprising Truths”. The group asserts, among other things, that “the FDA is still not protecting consumers” with regards to “misleading” label claims.

 While we support a healthy, science-based debate about products, SPFs play a vital role in preventing sunburn and skin cancer.

 If we were to fault these products or their use, we would say:

  1.  Historically there was too little focus on UVA protection; these are the rays that cause cancer. The SPF value only speaks to UVB, which causes sunburn.
  2. Consumers typically do not apply enough product, and do not reapply it regularly enough.
  3. Health Canada and the US FDA have been slow to adopt new SPF ingredients, which are commonly used in Europe and other jurisdictions; these give a lot more options for sun protection.
  4. Most dermatologists recommend broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher. There seems to be concern among certain groups with products with much higher SPF values. Very high SPF products hold the potential for consumers to become complacent with reapplication, using enough product, or practicing sun avoidance.
  5. In Canada, brand owners can over-label the SPF value and sell the product as a cosmetic. While this allows companies to avoid Canada’s onerous drug regulations, it raises serious concerns about consumer understanding of the products they are using, and potential overuse of SPF products. This raises an interesting question about Vitamin D production, which is already minimized during the winter season in our northern climates.

 What to Do:

  1. Be aware of the opinions of NGOs, as these can lead to questions from consumers or attacks on your products.
  2. Make sure you educate your consumers, beauty advisors and retailers about the correct amount of SPF product to use, and the need to reapply them frequently.
  3. Focus your product development on ensuring broad-spectrum protection.

 If you have any questions about NGO activity surrounding sunscreen, please contact us at 905-271-2709.