“The vast majority of sunscreens available to the consumer aren’t as good as most people think they are, but there are a handful of products that rise above the rest,” Sonya Lunder, a senior research analyst with the organization, said in a statement.
Last year the FDA finalized new standards that specified that only sunscreens that block both ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) radiation can be labeled as "Broad Spectrum." Both can cause sunburn and skin cancer, though sunburn is primarily caused by UVB rays.
The agency also prevented companies from calling their products "waterproof" and required labels to indicate how long a user can expect water resistant sunscreen to be fully effective after getting wet.
The EWG claims that the standards are still too weak, and that half of the sunscreen on the shelf would not be allowed in Europe, which has stricter standards.
The advocacy group wants the FDA to urge companies to stop selling sunscreens with SPF values above 50. People mistakenly assume that the high SPF value means they can stay out in the sun longer, though the actual increased protection is negligible, the EWG says.
That kind of deceptive marketing and consumer confusion may actually be responsible for increases in deadly skin cancer, the authors assert.
"EWG disagrees with FDA’s decision to allow sunscreen makers to claim that their products prevent cancer," the group says in the report. "We are concerned that this policy will lead people to rely on sunscreen use alone to mitigate their cancer risk – and that this may backfire."
Rates of the skin cancer melanoma has risen at a rate of about 2 percent each year since 2000.