What's the Best Sunscreen? There's an App for That


How do you pick the best sunscreen from the hundreds of brands at the drug store? Well, there's an app for that.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit known for its sunscreen guide and advocacy work to create better sunscreen labeling, launched today an iPhone app that's a shopper's guide to better sun protection lotions. The free widget gives consumers access to its online database of 500 sunscreens and their ratings, which are based on analyses of the key chemicals that block or absorb harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. The EWG promotes sunscreen with zinc oxide as the key ingredient.

"We want to give consumers the ability to pick the safest and most effective sunscreen while they're on the go," says Alex Formuzis, vice president of media relations at the Washington, D.C.-based group. "People are increasingly on the go and want to get the information they're looking for in real time wherever they are. "

The sunscreen app is the second attempt by the EWG to publicize its cause among iPhone users. A few months back, the group launched an iPhone app for its guide to 49 fruits and vegetables with their varying amounts of pesticide residues. The EWG created the list by compiling pesticide testing data from the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The app for the fruit-and-vegetable guide has been downloaded 30,318 times since its launch, Formuzis says.

No Shortage of Skincare Apps

Skin care is big business, so it's no wonder that mobile phone apps have become a popular advertising tool beyond the nonprofit world. There's the app from dermatologist Dr. Fredric Brandt, which launched earlier this year. Merck (MRK), maker of sunscreen brand Coppertone, launched an iPhone app just last week that offers UV index forecasts and product recommendations.

Meanwhile, skin-care companies and consumer groups are continuing their big battle over the federal regulation of sunscreen labels, which provide ratings for a product's effectiveness against UVB rays but not UVA. UVB causes damage that's more quickly apparent, such as sunburn, while UVA tends to causes long-term damage, such as wrinkles. Both could lead to cancer.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration has also faced criticism for not approving sunscreen ingredients that have long been available in Europe and for not doing more to warn consumers about other potentially harmful chemicals in sunscreens available today.

Last month, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for the FDA to investigate a link between retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A-derived ingredient in sunscreen, and cancer and provide guidance for consumers.