Sunscreens


Ethical shopping guide to Sunscreen, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Sunscreen, from Ethical Consumer


This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This product guide includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 19 brands of sunscreen
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • the SPF labelling system
  • are nanoparticles in sunscreens safe?


This product guide is part of a Special Report on Cosmetics & Toiletries.  See what's in the rest of the report.

Customise your scorecard ratings

How important to you?
Less
More
Click the + icon to expand categories

To save your personal score settings and use them elsewhere around the site, please  Log In.

 

Help

Score Ratings

Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings

 

Score table

The score table shows simple numerical ratings out of 20 for each product. The higher the score, the more ethical the company.

Move the sliders to customise these scores. 

Click on a product name to see the stories behind the score (subscribers only). 

 

Full Scorecard

The Full Scorecard shows the 'black marks' for each product, by each of the 17 negative categories. The bigger the mark, the worse the score. So for example a big black circle under 'Worker Rights' shows that the company making this product has been severely criticised for worker abuses.

Scores start at 14.  A small circle means that half a mark is deducted, a large circle means that a full mark is deducted.

Marks are added in the positive categories of Company Ethos and the five Product Sustainability columns (O,F,E,S,A).  A small circle  means that half a mark is added, a large circle means that a full mark is added.

The Full Scorecard is only available to subscribers. Click on the More Detail link at the top of the score table to access it.

 

Customising Rating Scores

Move the sliders to change the weighting given to each category. You can open up each of the 5 main categories by clicking on the + sign. This way you can compare products according to what's ethically important to YOU.  

 

Saving Your Customised Weightings

You must be signed-in to save your customisations. The weightings you have given to each category will be saved premanently (subscribers) or only for this visit to the site (registered users).  Once set, they will be used to calculate the scores in all the buyers' guides that you view. 

 

Stories and Data behind the scores

To see all the stories and research data behind the ratings you'll need to be a subscriber.

You must be signed-in to save your customisations. The weightings you have given to each category will be saved premanently (subscribers) or only for this visit to the site (registered users).  Once set, they will be used to calculate the scores in all the buyers' guides that you view. 

 

Stories and Data behind the scores

To see all the stories and research data behind the ratings you'll need to be a subscriber.

How the Sliders work
Move the sliders to see how different issues affect the score table
Refine each category by clicking the + icons
Save your settings (you need to be signed in first)
Key to expanded Score table

Best Buys

as of Sept/Oct 2012

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that these brands will not always come out top of the scoretable.

 

Non-nano suncreens: the Best Buys are Badger, Neal’s Yard, Pure Nuff Stuff, Yaoh.


For nano suncreens, the Best Buys are Green People and Lavera.


Places
to buy

 


 


Ethical Consumer makes a small amount of money from your purchase. This goes to fund our research and campaigning. We ethically screen all the sites we link to.

 

 

Apply with caution

 

Sunscreens can be broadly categorised as either chemical, which are absorbed into the skin and which absorb ultra-violet rays, or physical (mineral), which sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays.

Whilst the mainstream brands in this report typically produce chemical sunscreens, and ‘natural products’ companies produce physical sunscreens, some products now also contain a mixture of both active ingredients.

When exposed to the sun, two types of ultra-violet radiation are of concern: short-wave UVB rays, which are more intense and are the primary cause of sunburn, and long-wave UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and are the dominant tanning ray.

Both types of UV are contributing factors to skin cancer, but until relatively recently the significance of UVA rays was not fully known. This, coupled with research that indicated some companies claimed their products provided more sun protection than was the case, led to changes in non-legally binding recommendations from the European Commission in 2006. It seems that most manufacturers have voluntarily complied, leading to better sun protection being available in Europe than in the USA.

A product’s sunburn protection factor (SPF) refers to the level of UVB protection that it provides. The EU guidelines now state that the level of UVA protection should be at least a third of the SPF indicated on the packaging. So, whilst a product might offer UVB protection of SPF 30, if its UVA protection is equivalent to SPF 5 it would not be able to display an SPF figure of greater than 15. Consequently, very high SPF products are disappearing from the shelves along with products that claim to give complete protection, such as sun block.

Products that offer broad-spectrum protection are recommended, and both chemical and physical sunscreens can provide this. However, a number of ingredients found in chemical sunscreens have raised safety concerns.

 


 

 

Physical sunscreens and the nano factor

 

The active ingredients in physical sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients can occur as nano-particles – microscopic particles about 1/50,000 the width of a human hair. Safety concerns regarding the use of nano-particles are as yet unresolved, and the regulatory framework for assessing their use continues to lag far behind developments in the cosmetics sector.

In our last Buyers’ Guide to sunscreens we recommended that, in line with the precautionary principle, products containing nano-particles are avoided. Since then, however, the well-regarded Environmental Working Group (EWG) have begun to recommend some products that may contain nano-sized ingredients. They found that consumers using sunscreens without zinc oxide and titanium dioxide were being exposed to an average of 20% more UVA radiation, with associated health impacts. They were also being exposed to a greater number of hazardous ingredients through the use of chemical sunscreens. The study concluded:
“On balance, EWG researchers found that zinc and titanium-based formulations are among the safest, most effective sunscreens on the market based on available evidence. The easy way out of the nano debate would be to steer people clear of zinc and titanium sunscreens with a call for more data. In the process, such a position would implicitly recommend sunscreen ingredients that don’t work, that break down soon after they are applied, that offer only marginal UVA protection, or that absorb through the skin”.[2]

However, EWG stress that their position would be different if the product analysed did not protect human health like sunscreen does, and that sprays and powders containing nano-particles should be avoided.

Some natural products companies still offer sunscreens with micro-sized rather than nano-sized zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. However, the EWG note that both nano and micro-sized particles can be toxic if they penetrate the skin.

We have divided the Best Buy companies into those that use nano-particles and those that use micronised (non-nano).

Physical or mineral sunscreens are less likely to cause skin irritations and allergic reactions as they are not absorbed into the skin. However, this means that they can leave a residual white coating on the skin – possibly not the look you are after on the beach! The smaller the particle size the less chance there is of looking luminous.

Despite the fact that they can now be Best Buys, companies that use nanoparticles in their sunscreens will still lose half a mark in our Pollution and Toxics category. The environmental impacts of nanoparticles are not fully understood, but concerns have been raised about the build up of this novel pollutant in ecological systems. Once again research seems to be lagging way behind technological developments.

 

 


Company profile

 

Boots is owned by private equity firm KKR. The latter has subsidiaries in seven tax havens and, on taking over Boots, moved its headquarters to Switzerland to avoid the UK’s higher rate of corporation tax. Boots also scores badly for all the policies rated in this report (palm oil, animal testing, supply chain management and environmental reporting).

 

 Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

This information is reserved for subscribers only. Don't miss out, become a subscriber today.

 


 

References

1 http://bx.businessweek.com/loreal-group/ 
2 http://www.ewg.org/nanotechnology-sunscreens 
3 http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/uva-and-uvb/understanding-uva-and-uvb 
4 http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/

 


 

This product guide is part of a Special Report on Cosmetics & Toiletries.  See what's in the rest of the report.


 

Navigate To:

 

Ethical made easy

Detailed ethical ratings for over 40,000 companies, brands and products, plus Ethical Consumer magazine.

30 day trial subscription - find out more