It’s hard to find a more successful and widely accepted fear-mongering campaign than the Environmental Working Group’s annual Sunscreen Guide. Every year, the EWG “shames” sunscreens made with scary-sounding ingredients like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, and the public accepts their word for it.
The EWG’s scare tactics aren’t just erroneous. They’re also unethical. They sell their recommended sunscreens on their website — earning a profit on every sale.
You might be more familiar with the EWG’s Dirty Dozen, a list of fruits and vegetables the EWG says you should never buy in conventional form lest you drown in insignificant levels of pesticide residue. The EWG isn’t just an organization that promotes organic food. They also helped form pro-organic lobbyist group Organic Voices and the Just Label It campaign with organic companies like Stonyfield and Organic Valley. Organic Valley’s counsel is also an EWG board member. In other words, conflicts of interest are kind of their sweet spot.
There is no reason you should buy the organic version of the “dirty dozen,” just like there’s no reason you should choose overpriced “natural” sunscreens over less expensive drugstore brands. The EWG’s dire warnings about oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate in sunscreen aren’t supported by scientific evidence. They’re just plain wrong.
Why does the EWG “shame” drugstore brand sunscreens in favor of pricey natural and organic ones?
The EWG is no impartial authority. Multiple EWG board members have ties to the natural skin care industry. Diet Quack Dr. Mark Hyman also sits on the board. He uses the EWG Sunscreen Guide to hawk his brand of Vitamin D supplements. The EWG recommends and sells sunscreens from The Honest Company too. That company was founded by the former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, an organization that has now been subsumed by the EWG. The EWG’s “Sun Safety Coalition” — a partnership between EWG and the companies it recommends — sells its partner companies’ sunscreens on the EWG site (the EWG profits from each online sale as an Amazon affiliate) and in retail stores who participate in their program. And so goes the circle of sunscreen.
Whether we’re talking about the ingredients in sunscreen or the pesticides used to grow our produce, it’s time we all learn that natural does not mean safer or less toxic. The EWG is counting on you to make choices based on fear. You can’t trust them.
More evidence-based criticism of the EWG’s sunscreen guide: