EltaMD Sunscreen Review: Is the #1 Sunscreen Overrated?

EltaMD Sunscreen Review: Is the #1 Sunscreen Overrated?


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EltaMD is a cosmetics company that sells a wide variety of skincare products, but the brand is arguably best-known for their sunscreen. The brand claims to be the "#1 Dermatologist-Recommended Sunscreen Brand."

But does EltaMD use ingredients in their sunscreens that are clinically shown to protect skin from sun damage? Does the brand use any questionable inactive ingredients? Why was EltaMD sued in 2022? And how do real customers rate and describe the effects of EltaMD sunscreen?

In this review we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we analyze the ingredients in two of EltaMD's most popular sunscreens based on clinical studies, to give our take on whether or not they're likely to be effective at protecting skin, and whether or not they're healthy.

We'll review EltaMD Tinted Sunscreen and EltaMD UV Clear.

We'll also feature unsponsored customer reviews of the brand, explain why EltaMD was sued in 2022, and provide a cost comparison to show which retailer sells EltaMD for the best price.

Tinted Sunscreen Ingredient Analysis

Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen active ingredients

Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen inactive ingredients

The ingredients in EltaMD UV Clear Tinted sunscreen are shown above. 

Tinted sunscreens have two main benefits according to EltaMD’s site: to reduce white residue in standard sunscreen and to reflect more light.

Zinc oxide is an effective "physical" sunscreen ingredient, which means it sits atop the skin and reflects or absorbs UV rays.

A clinical trial published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found this ingredient to be safe and non-toxic, and it's a physical sunscreen ingredient we recommend.

Iron oxides are an inactive ingredient in this formulation, but are clinically shown to work synergistically with zinc oxide to provide added UV protection.

Octinoxate is a chemical sunscreen ingredient that we recommend avoiding.

A 2018 medical review found this ingredient to be potentially harmful to human health, and octinoxate has been banned in Hawaii due to its potential to damage coral reefs and other ecosystems.

Niacinamide and sodium hyaluronate have anti-aging effects as we documented in our Disco Eye Stick reviews article.

Overall, we consider EltaMD Tinted Sunscreen to be likely effective for sun protection, and to potentially have an anti-aging effect due to the inclusion of two other research-backed inactive ingredients.

However, we do not currently recommend this product because it contains a chemical sunscreen ingredient that we consider questionable from a health and environmental perspective.

A YouTube creator named Abbey Yung has a review of EltaMD Tinted sunscreen with over 90,000 views:

Why Was EltaMD Sued?

In December of 2022, the manufacturer of EltaMD was sued over alleged false advertising.

The plaintiffs alleged that the brand was falsely advertising some of their products by marketing them as "mineral based," while they contained some harmful chemical active ingredients according to ClassAction.org. 

Interestingly, one of the active ingredients that were the subject of this lawsuit (octinoxate) was an ingredient we flagged in this article as potentially questionable from a health perspective over a year before the lawsuit was filed.

We do not consider this lawsuit to suggest additional risk to consumers, because all of the relevant information is already in the ingredient lists. This is a lawsuit related to marketing.

At the time of updating this article, it's unclear whether this lawsuit is ongoing or has been settled.

UV Clear Ingredient Analysis

Elta MD UV Clear active ingredients

Elta MD UV Clear inactive ingredients

EltaMD UV Clear has the exact same active ingredients, at the exact same concentrations, as the brand's tinted sunscreen that we reviewed in the previous Ingredient Analysis section.

Thus, our conclusion is the same: this sunscreen is likely to be effective for protecting skin, but we do not recommend it due to the use of octinoxate.

Phenoxyethanol is an inactive ingredient in this formulation that's clinically shown to be toxic to human cells in a test tube setting, as we documented in our Blue Lizard Sunscreen reviews article.

It's also notable that this formulation lacks iron oxides. For this reason we consider this formulation inferior to the tinted sunscreen, because of the synergistic effect between iron oxides and zinc oxide.

Overall, we do not recommend EltaMD UV Clear due to the inclusion of octinoxate and phenoxyethanol.

An esthetician with a YouTube channel called "The Bauer Beauty Experience" reviewed EltaMD UV Clear:

Real Customers Review EltaMD

Amazon is a better resource for honest customer reviews than a brand's website in our opinion.

EltaMD UV Clear sunscreen is the brand's most-reviewed product on Amazon at the time of updating this article, with over 40,000 total reviews and an average review rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

The top positive review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named "Seo Young Myaeng" who gives the product a 5/5 star rating, and suggests it's effective for sensitive skin:

"And after trying about 8 other sunscreen brands, I've decided to stick with this one. I've been using it for about a month and it's not very harsh on my skin, nor does it cause white cast when I reapply it (at least on the second time. Haven't tried reapplying more than that). It's not too oily so doesn't feel disgusting and I haven't experienced any breakouts yet."

The top negative review from a verified purchaser comes from a user named "Peace" who gives the product a 1/5 star rating, and claims to have experienced side effects:

"I purchased this in early May, and now probably my my 5th-10th time using it in late July, I have had a terrible reaction. I have painful hives all over my face, neck, ears, and chest. Everywhere I had put the sunscreen. It has been three days since I last used the sunscreen and the hives are not going away. I am putting Benadryl on my face to hopefully end the allergic reaction, as well as using a gentle cleanser to make sure it doesn’t actually cause any acne."

EltaMD UV Clear currently has an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars on Google.

Our Clean Sunscreen Pick

YOUARESUNSHINE from ClearStem is our top sunscreen pick.

It's an SPF 50+ physical sunscreen entirely free of questionable additives, and it may even have anti-aging effects. This sunscreen contains green tea extract, which is clinically shown to moisturize the skin and reduce wrinkles.

Interested consumers can check out YOUARESUNSHINE at this link to the product page on the brand's official website.

Where to Buy EltaMD for the Best Price

EltaMD is sold at a variety of online retailers.

Below is a price breakdown for the two products reviewed in this article, at the time of updating this article:

EltaMD Tinted Sunscreen

Brand website: $41 (plus shipping, link)

Amazon: $41 (free shipping, link to official Amazon listing)

Walmart: $28.99 (free shipping, third-party seller, link)

EltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen

Brand website: $43 (plus shipping, link)

Amazon: $43 (free shipping, link to official Amazon listing)

Walmart currently has a much better price on the tinted sunscreen, but the listing is from a third-party seller so it may be safer to purchase from official channels like the brand's Amazon listing or website.

EltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen is currently around 15% cheaper on Amazon than the brand's website when factoring in shipping fees.

Pros and Cons of EltaMD

Here are the pros and cons of EltaMD in our opinion:

Pros: 

  • Effective active ingredients
  • Should protect skin from sun
  • Highly favorable online customer reviews
  • Some anti-aging ingredients

Cons:

  • Brand sued over allegations of deceptive marketing
  • Some formulations contain phenoxyethanol
  • Some formulations contain octinoxate
  • May be harmful to the environment
  • Doesn't appear clinically tested
  • Brand website charges for shipping
Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

We consider EltaMD sunscreens to be well-formulated from an efficacy perspective.

Both of the sunscreens we reviewed in this article contain active ingredients that are shown in clinical research to protect the skin from sun, and both contain inactive ingredients that may have an anti-aging effect.

We do not currently recommend EltaMD sunscreens due to the use of a chemical sunscreen ingredient called octinoxate which may be endocrine-disrupting in humans, and which is harmful to marine wildlife and natural ecosystems.

In 2022, EltaMD was sued for false advertising, and the plaintiffs alleged that some of the ingredients we highlighted in this article are unhealthy for use in humans.

Reviewers online seem to think highly of EltaMD, as the brand has some of the highest average Amazon ratings for a cosmetics brand that we've reviewed on Illuminate Health.

At the time of updating this article, Amazon has better prices on a one-time purchase of EltaMD sunscreen than the brand's website, when factoring in shipping fees.