In Consumer Reports’ latest ratings of sunscreens, Up & Up (Target) Continuous Spray Sport SPF 50 and Equate (Walmart) Ultra Protection Lotion SPF 50 earned the highest scores in tests and were among the least expensive.
Some of the priciest sunscreens that were tested offered less than their labeled SPF value, a measure of protection from burning UVB rays.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has new rules governing sunscreens. According to the agency, one of the most important requirements is the testing and labeling that identifies sunscreens that are “broad spectrum.” Broad spectrum means that the sunscreen should offer protection against UVB and UVA rays.
Consumer Reports evaluated 12 sunscreens for their effectiveness at protecting against UVA and UVB rays – both of which can cause skin cancer.
Six sunscreens, including the top-scoring products from Target and Walmart, Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 lotion and Walgreens Sport Continuous Spray SPF 50 rated Very Good overall. They guarded against UVB rays before and after 80 minutes under water and were Very Good against UVA rays – all at a cost of $1.67 or less per ounce.
Tests also showed that paying more may not buy more protection – the least effective sunscreens were among the priciest.
While there are potential safety concerns associated with several sunscreen ingredients based on animal study findings, Consumer Reports continues to recommend the use of sunscreen as part of a broad approach to sun protection.
Consumer Reports suggests using one of its recommended sunscreens or choosing a product that claims broad-spectrum protection, has a claimed SPF of at least 40 and is water resistant.
To stay safe, limit time in the sun, reapply sunscreen every two hours while outdoors and, if possible, wear protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
And keep in mind the following tips when using any sunscreen:
• Proper application. Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. Use at least 2 to 3 tablespoons of lotion to cover exposed skin. For sprays, use as much as can be rubbed in, then repeat.
Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating. Sprays are flammable, so allow them to dry before going near an open flame.
• Proper storage. Don’t store sunscreen in a hot car – it may degrade faster. Skiers take note: Once frozen, sunscreens may lose effectiveness.
The FDA requires manufacturers to provide an expiration date or show that a product will remain stable – but not necessarily maintain its SPF – for at least three years. Consumers who buy sunscreen without an expiration date should write the date of purchase on the bottle and toss it once it’s 2 years old.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., and the benefits of sunscreens outweigh potential risks from their ingredients.
That said, animal studies have raised some concerns. Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in animals.
Retinoids, part of the vitamin A family and an inactive ingredient in some sunscreens, have caused an increase in skin cancers in mice. There’s also a risk of birth defects in people taking oral acne medications containing retinoids, though they differ from the retinoids in sunscreens.
As a precaution, pregnant women may want to choose a sunscreen without the ingredient retinol or retinyl palmitate.
Animal studies have indicated that oxybenzone, which is in many sunscreens, may interfere with hormones in the body. The jury is still out on any harm from inhaling spray sunscreens. Until the FDA releases results of an ongoing study, avoid using sprays on kids, and spray sunscreen onto your hands before applying it to your face.