Neutrogena is the number one sunscreen to avoid, says EWG


The sunscreen market is a $1.3 billion industry, according to some estimates, and while the product is extremely important to maintain our health, some sunscreens do a much better job than others.

In fact, some sunscreens may do more harm than good.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released their 2015 guide to sunscreen, and among the worst brands for sun protection is the number one culprit for toxicity and false advertising, Neutrogena.

“Neutrogena’s advertising hype is further from reality than any other major brand we studied. It claims to be the “#1 dermatologist recommended suncare brand, yet all four products highlighted on Neutrogena’s suncare web page rate 7, in the red – worst – zone in our database,” says EWG.

Not only do many Neutrogena sunscreens contain harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and methylisothiazolinone – we’ll get to those later – but their advertised SPF levels of over 70 have been debunked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. According to the federal department, SPF levels max out at about 50. Europe, Australia and Japan have already banned brands from advertising SPF levels over 50.

Harmful chemicals and preservatives

EWG states 80 per cent of Neutrogena sunscreens contain oxybenzone, “a hormone-disrupting sunscreen filter” and 33 per cent contain retinyl palmitate, “a form of vitamin A linked to skin damage”.


Oxybenzone is part of a class of aromatic ketones called benzophenones and is used in many sunscreens, hair sprays, cosmetics and nail polishes. It is also used in plastics to absorb ultraviolet light. With its use in sunscreen as a broad-spectrum UVB and and short-wave UVA protector, it is acts as a endocrine disruptor.

Endocrine disruptors like oxybenzone interfere with the hormone system, potentially causing cancer, birth defects and developmental disorders. A 2008 study looking at the effects of oxybenzone on juvenile rainbow trout and Japanese medaka found that those samples exposed to the ketone produced a decreased number of eggs, a smaller percentage of fertilized eggs and a smaller percentage of hatched, or viable, eggs.

According to EWG, oxybenzone acts like estrogen in the body and alters sperm production in males. It is also associated with endometriosis in women and may cause fertility problems.

Oxybenzone is detected in nearly every American and found in mothers’ milk.

Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A used in sunscreens and has been found to accelerate cancer in high doses applied to the skin. While the evidence is not definitive, says EWG, it is troubling. A U.S. government study found that it “may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight.”

Vitamin A, or Retinol, is also used in many skin products that promise to slow the signs of aging, however its controversy as an ingredient in sunscreen is due to its effects when exposed to sunlight. The harmful effects of retinyl palmitate include brittle nails, hair loss, liver damage, osteoporosis and hip fractures. Norwegian health authorities have also urged women pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid any products with vitamin A due to the skeletal birth defects it may cause.

Environmental Working Group’s list of the worst sunscreens (in alphabetical order):

(But remember, any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen)

11 Worst Spray Sunscreens:


  • Banana Boat Clear UltraMist Ultra Defense MAX Skin Protect Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110
  • Coppertone Sport High Performance AccuSpray Sunscreen, SPF 70
  • Coppertone Sport High Performance Clear Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100+
  • CVS Clear Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100
  • CVS Sheer Mist Spray Sunscreen, SPF 70
  • CVS Sport Clear Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100+
  • CVS Wet & Dry Sunscreen Spray, SPF 85
  • Neutrogena Fresh Cooling Sunscreen Body Mist, SPF 70
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Spray, SPF 100+
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Sunscreen Spray, SPF 85+

12 Worst Sunscreen Lotions:


  • Banana Boat Sport Performance Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100
  • Coppertone Sport High Performance Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100
  • Coppertone Sport High Performance Sunscreen, SPF 75
  • Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
  • Coppertone Ultra Guard Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70+
  • CVS Sport Sunstick Sunscreen, SPF 55
  • CVS Sun Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 100
  • CVS Sun Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 70
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Daily Liquid Sunscreen, SPF 70
  • NO-AD Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 60
  • NO-AD Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 85
  • Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70

11 Worst Sunscreens for Kids:


  • Banana Boat Clear UltraMist Kids Max Protect & Play Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110
  • Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70
  • Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
  • Coppertone Kids Wacky Foam Foaming Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 70+
  • Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70+
  • Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
  • Equate Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
  • Kroger Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70
  • Kroger Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Beach & Pool Sunblock Spray, SPF 70+
  • Up & Up Kid’s Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55

Environmental Working Group’s list of the best sunscreens (in alphabetical order):

Products from the following brands meet EWG criteria:

  • 100% Pure
  • Adorable Baby
  • Alba Botanica
  • All Terrain
  • Allure
  • Arbonne
  • Aubrey Organics
  • Ava Anderson NonToxic
  • Babo Botanicals
  • Baby Pibu
  • Babyganics
  • Babyhampton
  • Babytime! by Episencial
  • Badger
  • Bare Belly Organics
  • Beautycounter
  • Belli
  • Belly Buttons & Babies
  • Beyond Coastal
  • Biosolis
  • Block Island Organics
  • Blue Lizard
  • Bull Frog
  • BurnOut
  • Burt’s Bees
  • Butterbean
  • California Baby
  • California Naturel
  • Celadon Road
  • Consonant Skincare
  • Coral Safe
  • CoTZ
  • CyberDERM
  • derma e
  • DHC
  • Dr. Mercola
  • Earth’s Best
  • Elemental Herbs
  • EltaMD
  • Goddess Garden
  • Grahams Natural Alternatives
  • HeadHunter
  • Jan Marini
  • Jason Natural Cosmetics
  • Jersey Shore Sun
  • Juice Beauty
  • Just Skin Food
  • La Roche-Posay
  • Lavanila
  • Lemongrass Spa
  • Loving Naturals
  • Luzern Laboratories
  • MD Moms
  • MD Skincare
  • MDSolarSciences
  • Melvita
  • Mustela
  • MyChelle
  • Naked Turtle
  • Nature’s Gate
  • NIA24
  • Nine Naturals
  • Nurture My Body
  • Poofy Organics
  • Radical Skincare
  • Raw Elements USA
  • RevaleSkin
  • Rocky Mountain Sunscreen
  • Safe Harbor
  • Sensitive Skin Clinic
  • Seventh Generation
  • SkinCeuticals
  • Solar Protection Formula
  • Solbar
  • Star Naturals
  • Substance
  • Sun Bum
  • Sunology
  • Suntegrity Skincare
  • sunumbra
  • Sweetsation Therapy
  • The Honest Company
  • thinkbaby
  • thinksport
  • Tropical Sands
  • TruBaby
  • True Natural
  • TruKid
  • UV Natural
  • Vanicream
  • Yes To Cucumbers

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Jill Slattery Jill Slattery was born and raised in Vancouver, where she also earned an Arts degree from UBC in English and Creative Writing. She is an avid TV-watcher and a shameless Taylor Swift fangirl. Jill is a Staff Writer at Vancity Buzz. Contact her at

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