Don’t Get Burned by Your Sunscreen

Photo (cc) by Kirt Edblom

The sunscreen you just applied may not provide the SPF (sun protection factor) promised on its bottle.

That’s the recent finding of Consumer Reports, which tested the SPF of 20 sunscreens. Half of us purchase a sunscreen based on its SPF rating, CR says.

Unfortunately, it appears that you can’t always trust the number on the bottle.

“Consumers just need to be careful when they buy sunscreen, that they are looking at the labels and questioning the information they are reading,” Trisha Calvo, Consumer Reports deputy editor, told WebMD. The FDA regulates just three sunscreen claims – SPF, water resistance and broad spectrum, Calvo explained.

Consumer Reports performed UVB and UVA tests on the sunscreens. For the screens that claim they work after water exposure, the UVA and UVB tests were conducted after water immersion. Overall sunscreen scores are based on the results of the two tests.

Consumer Reports’ testing showed that after time spent in the water, only two of the 20 sunscreens provided the sun protection advertised.

The sunscreens came in 4 percent to 40 percent below their SPF claims, but, according to Consumer Reports:

That doesn’t mean the sunscreens aren’t protective. Even an SPF 30 sunscreen that comes in, say, 40 percent below its claim gives you an SPF of 18. And we can’t say why our test results differ from the manufacturers’ claims, but they show that SPF isn’t always carved in stone.

Consumer Reports recommends the following seven sunscreens it tested, according to WedMD:

  • Banana Boat’s Ultra Defense Max Skin Protect SPF 110 spray, at $1.75 an ounce.
  • BullFrog Water Armor Sport InstaCool SPF 50+ spray, at $1.67 an ounce. This was one of only two sunscreens that lived up to its SPF claim.
  • Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50, at $1.38 an ounce.
  • Neutrogena Ultimate Sport SPF 70+ lotion, at $2.75 an ounce.
  • Target’s Up & Up Spray Sport SPF 50 spray, at 80 cents an ounce.
  • Walgreens’ Well Sport SPF 50 spray, at $1.58 an ounce
  • Walmart’s Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50, at 56 cents an ounce.

The July issue of Consumer Reports contains a full report and ratings of the 20 sunscreens tested.

What sunscreen do you use? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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