Is Cheap Sunscreen Good Enough?

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Welcome to the “2-Minute Money Manager,” a short video feature answering money questions submitted by readers and viewers.

Today’s question is about sunscreen — specifically, whether cheap sunscreen will do the job, or if expensive brands are necessary for adequate protection.

Watch the following video, and you’ll pick up some valuable info. Or, if you prefer, scroll down to read the full transcript and find out what I said.

You also can learn how to send in a question of your own below.

For more information, check out “These 3 Sunscreens Protect Skin Without Burning Your Wallet” and “3 Mistakes That Can Make Your Sun Protection Worthless” You can also go to the search at the top of this page, put in the word “sunscreen” and find plenty of information on just about everything relating to this topic.

And if you need anything from tips on finding a better savings account to finding the best financial advice, be sure and visit our Solutions Center.

Got a question of your own to ask? Scroll down past the transcript.

Don’t want to watch? Here’s what I said in the video

Hello, and welcome to your “2-Minute Money Manager.” I’m your host, Stacy Johnson, and this answer is brought to you by Money Talks News, serving up the best in personal finance news and advice since 1991.

Today’s question comes from Roberta. She asks:

“Is it OK to buy sunscreen at the dollar store if it says “full spectrum,” or are more expensive sunscreens better to get? Thanks so much.”

OK, Roberta, let’s discuss.

The short answer to your question is it’s definitely OK to buy less-expensive sunscreen.

Every year, Consumer Reports rates dozens of sunscreens, and every year they prove that expensive isn’t necessarily better.

Consumer Reports tests lots of products for effectiveness, as well as less-important things like scent and how they feel on the skin. CR bases its testing on a protocol used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, then adds its own methodology.

In 2019, three inexpensive sunscreens that CR tested rated “excellent” and received its “Best Buy” designation. They were:

At the time, the price of the dozens of products CR tested ranged from a low of 44 cents an ounce to a high of $12.12 per ounce. The Walmart product was 44 cents an ounce. The other two CR recommended were a buck an ounce.

So, there you go. As with many things in life, it’s easy to get burned by ridiculously priced products.

That being said, Roberta’s question was about sunscreen at the dollar store.

Roberta, a dollar-store product could be fine, but don’t trust the phrase “full spectrum.” The phase you want to see on the front of any sunscreen you buy is “broad spectrum SPF” immediately followed by an SPF number — for example, “broad spectrum SPF 30.”

That wording is regulated by federal law, as we explain in “3 Mistakes That Can Make Your Sun Protection Worthless.”

But if you can buy sunscreen at Walmart that’s both cheap and proven effective, why not do that instead? Better safe than sorry.

How to protect yourself from the sun

Before we end this topic, let’s take a minute and talk about sun protection. The best sunscreen in the world won’t be effective if you make mistakes in protecting your skin.

For example, choosing the wrong type of clothing can leave you inadequately protected. As we’ve reported before, light-colored and lightweight fabrics don’t offer as much protection as darker, heavier fabrics.

How you apply sunscreen also matters. Start by shaking the bottle, even if the directions don’t say to. Apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going in the sun. Consumer Reports says to use 1 teaspoon per area of the body — such as the face, neck or each arm. And reapply your sunscreen about every two hours, and immediately after swimming.

Then there’s your eyes. Get the right sunglasses. As with sunscreen, though, you don’t need to spend a bunch of money.

Hope that answers your question, Roberta.

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The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that come from our members. You can learn how to become one here. Also, questions should be of interest to other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.

About me

I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’m a CPA, and I’ve also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate.

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