January 20, 2019
Some Sunscreens Fall Short on Protection
Wellness Tip

Some Sunscreens Fall Short on Protection

by Rebecca Lane  

You know you should slather on sunscreen to shield your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. But many products don’t deliver the protection their labels promise, according to the latest tests by Consumer Reports.

The organization tested 65 sunscreens—both sprays and lotions—claiming to have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, the minimum amount recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. It found that 28 of the products, or more than 40 percent, fell short of their labeled SPF. And two products that claimed to have SPF 50—Banana Boat Kids Tear-Free, Sting-Free SPF50 lotion and CVS Kids Sun Lotion SPF50—tested at a dismal SPF 8. SPF refers to a product’s protection against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which are the chief cause of sunburn and contribute to skin cancer. (Consumer Reports also tests for protection against UVA, the other type of damaging ultraviolet ray from the sun. UVA causes skin aging (wrinkles) and also contributes to skin cancer.)

Especially problematic in Consumer Reports’ tests were “natural” (mineral-based) sunscreens, which contain only zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both. On average they were less likely to contain the advertised amount of SPF than sunscreens that have chemical active ingredients, such as avobenzone. The organization says that’s consistent with the results of other sunscreen tests it’s done in the past several years. No mineral-based products are included among its 17 recommended sunscreens. The full list is available to subscribers only on the Consumer Reports website, but we found it reprinted in this WebMD article. The ratings are based on both UVB and UVA protection.

What to do

If you can’t find one of Consumer Reports’ recommended sunscreens, the organization recommends looking for a sunscreen with SPF of at least 40 (to help control for the possible difference between the labeled SPF and actual SPF) and labeled “broad spectrum,” which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Consumer Reports suggests avoiding “natural” (mineral) sunscreens, which act as physical blockers, in favor of those with active ingredients that absorb UV, such as avobenzone. Apply it liberally at least 15 minutes before you go in the sun and reapply at least every two hours. Use water-resistant products if you plan to swim or if you sweat a lot.

Also see Sunscreen First, Bug Repellent Second.