Consumer Reports: Super Sunscreens

Most dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen that delivers an SPF, or sun protection factor, of 30 of higher.

The SPF indicates the amount of protection you get from the sun’s UVB rays, which cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer.

Consumer Reports tested 34 lotions and sprays to see whether they deliver what they claim.

Technicians applied sunscreen to panelists’ backs and had them soak in a tub for 40 or 80 minutes, depending on the product’s water-resistance claim. Then the area was exposed to UVB light. The next day, the test area was examined for redness.

Almost a third of the sunscreens tested had SPF's below what was promised.

For example, the maker of Banana Boat Sport Spray claims it has an SPF of more than 50, but it had an SPF of only 24, on average.

The company released the following statement in response to Consumer Reports' findings: 

"Like Consumer Reports, we want to help people make informed choices about appropriate sun protection because it is essential to optimal health. We are proud of our sun care products, including the quality and performance of Banana Boat® Sport Performance® Clear UltraMist® with PowerStay Technology™ SPF 50 and are pleased that SunComfort™ Continuous Spray SPF 50+, our newest addition to the Banana Boat line of sun care products, received such a high rating in the spray category. We put the same quality assurance and testing rigor, including relevant FDA testing requirements, into all our sun care products. People should feel confident using our products for safe protection, as directed by the product labels."

And the company that makes Yes to Cucumbers Natural claims it has an SPF 30, but it had only 14, on average.

The company released the following statement in response to Consumer Reports' findings: 

"We appreciate you reaching out and are aware of the Consumer Reports Sunscreen Buying Guide for 2015, that tested our Yes to Cucumbers Natural SPF 30 Sunscreen. We do not have comprehensive details of the methods used by Consumer Reports to validate their tests and findings. We do want to reassure you, however, that our Yes to Cucumbers Natural SPF 30 Sunscreen provides the sun protection reflected on the label. Our product is thoroughly tested against the current Sun Protection Factor (SPF) and UV-A Protection Determinations as defined in U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations (the "Sunscreen Drug Products Final Monograph"). Our product was tested and validated by an independent third party laboratory to be SPF 30, under 40 minutes of water resistant conditions."

You want a sunscreen that’s also effective against UVA rays, which are linked to skin damage and cancer. Sunscreens sold as “broad spectrum” should provide both UVA and UVB protection.

But in Consumer Reports’ lab tests, some of the sunscreens didn’t adequately guard against UVA rays.

The worst was Aloe Gator Gel.

The company released the following statement in response to Consumer Reports' findings: 

"Consumer Reports has previously tested / reviewed the Aloe Gator product in the past, which has always scored highly in previous reviews. Our testing data conducted by independent labs does not concur or support Consumer Reports finding. Consumer Reports testing methodology has been questions by experts in the field, has labeled the report as misleading with regards to what the acceptable and safe amount of UVA rays for people outdoors. The Aloe Gator 40+ GEL and all Aloe Gator products has always met or exceeded the U.S. FDA requirements for broad spectrum UVA & UVB rays. AGS take great pride in the Aloe Gator products we produce. Proof of this is our very large and loyal consumer following that has purchased millions of our performance Aloe Gator 40+ sunscreen units for over 30 years."

Consumer Reports did find 15 sunscreens to recommend, and these were named Best Buys:

  • No-Ad Sport SPF 50 lotion for $10
  • Equate Sport Continuous Spray SPF 30 for $8 from Walmart
  • Equate Ultra Protection lotion SPF 50 for $9 from Walmart

Consumer Reports included several sunscreens that contain minerals as their active ingredients — either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. None of the five are recommended. They didn’t deliver adequate broad-spectrum protection.

More information on Consumer Reports sunscreen tests is available here.

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars and trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports’ website.

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