By Bob Condor

Just in time for the sunniest months of summer, the Environmental Working Group has published an updated report on the effectiveness—make that both effectiveness and ineffectiveness–of sunscreen products. The news is not positive if Coppertone, Banana Boat and Neutragena are on the label.

EWG first made its mark rating fruits and vegetables for pesticide residue, publishing a highly viewed list of Top 10 best and worst (let’s just say Chilean grapes did not fare well). The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group has expanded its research range to include a deep and informative cosmetics database over the last few years, including a monster sunscreen report first published last summer.

While that report and consumer reaction prompted the Food and Drug Administration to release a statement pledging to develop tougher standards for sunscreen makers, not much has changed. Cynics might say it took the FDA 30 years to even look hard at sunscreen products, so who are we to expect action from one red-hot summer to the next?

EWG discovered found that “15 percent of sunscreen products with an SPF rating of 15 or higher offer inadequate protection from UV rays, or have ingredients that either are known health hazards or have not been tested for safety.” What's more, seven percent of the products (and a larger share of the total market) were deemed to protect only for sunburn and not for the serious long-term skin aging and skin cancer. In an unfortunate twist, EWG discovered that up to half of all sunscreen products break down in the sun. You can check out EWG’s report, including its list of more than 100 recommended sunscreen products at

The top-selling sunscreen company, Coppertone, was a major disappointment. None of Coppertone’s 41 sunscreen products met EWG’s criteria for safety and e

ffectiveness. Plus, only 1 of 103 products from Neutrogena and Banana Boat, the second- and third-largest manufacturers, are recommended by EWG.

Among the brands highly rated by EWG were Keys Soap Solar, Jason Natural, Kiss My Face, Trukid, Spectrum, California Baby (three products in the top 10), Badger, Olay, Skinceuticals, Marie Veronique, Lavera, Blue Lizard and Vanicream.

No matter what the brand, EWG recommends against using any products with oxybenzone due to potential health hazards, while explaining that zinc oxide remains the safest and most effective active ingredient (if not the least visible, tending to leave a whiteness to the skin even if rubbed in).

Of course, along with applying sunscreen before heading out into the sun, make sure to reapply on long days outside. If you want to get some vitamin D from the sun—a reasonable idea given emerging research—10 to 20 minutes on the face and forearms is enough for people with lighter skin and maybe up to 30 minutes for darker skin. Use sunscreen otherwise and don’t take your vitamin D seeking to a point of sunburn. In any case, remember the mid-day sun has the potential to do the most damage on summer days.

If you feel particularly sun-sensitive, stick with sunscreens given the EWG thumbs up and keep that hat on.

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing . He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer . He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.