Imperial, California - When shopping for sunscreen, SPF (sun protection factor) is usually an important feature for consumers. Consumer Reports recently tested 34 sunscreens and found almost a third of them didn’t meet the SPF claim on their labels, missing the mark by anywhere from 16 to 70 percent.
But there’s good news too: many of the sunscreens Consumer Reports tested met their SPF claims and some of the most effective products were also the lowest-priced. Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 lotion, $10.50 (8 ounces), Equate (Walmart) Ultra Protection SPF 50 lotion, $9 (16 ounces), and Banana Boat SunComfort Continuous Spray SPF 50+, $11 (6 ounces), all delivered top-notch protection and met their SPF claims. Consumer Reports’ highest-rated sunscreen, La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk (SPF 60), received a perfect score of 100 but cost the most of those tested - $36 for a 5-ounce bottle.
SPF is a relative measure of how long a sunscreen will protect a consumer from UVB rays which can cause sunburn and contribute to damage that can lead to skin cancer. Most dermatologists and other experts recommend using a sunscreen that delivers an SPF of 30 or higher, which blocks 97 percent or more of the sun’s UVB rays.
Consumer Reports found that eight of the eleven sunscreens that didn’t meet their SPF claims had an SPF below 30. For example, Yes To Cucumbers Natural SPF 30 had an average SPF of just 14. Sunscreens from Babyganics, Banana Boat, CVS, EltaMD, Hawaiian Tropic, Walgreens, and Vanicream also had SPF levels below their claims and less than SPF 30.
“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires sunscreen manufacturers to test their products and label them correctly,” said Trisha Calvo, Health and Food Deputy Content Editor for Consumer Reports. “Our findings are troubling because consumers may not be getting the amount of SPF protection they think they’re getting. On top of that, people often do not apply the right amount of sunscreen, fail to reapply it frequently enough, and don’t minimize their sun exposure, which could potentially put them at risk for overexposure to the sun’s rays.”
Consumer Reports measured SPF levels in the sunscreen samples by applying different products to panelists’ backs and having them soak in a large tub of water for the amount of time the products claimed to be water-resistant. When the panelists got out of the water, their sunscreen-coated skin was exposed to ultraviolet light.
Although they didn’t meet their SPF claims, three sunscreens still had an SPF higher than 30 and are worth considering: Coppertone UltraGuard SPF 70+ tested as an SPF 59, Coppertone ClearlySheer for Beach & Pool SPF 50+ tested as an SPF 37, and Banana Boat Sport Performance with Powerstay Technology SPF 100 tested as an SPF 36.
Aloe Gator SPF 40+ landed at the bottom Consumer Reports’ sunscreen Ratings. While it rated excellent for UVB protection that would suppress burning, it earned poor marks for protection against UVA rays, which are constantly present during the day no matter the season and are potentially a more insidious threat to health than UVB rays because they penetrate deeply into the skin.
Though “natural” has no real definition on a sunscreen label, the term is often used to refer to products that contain only the minerals zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. Mineral sunscreens are less likely than those that contain chemicals (such as avobenzone) to irritate skin or cause allergic reactions.
Consumer Reports has found that these so-called naturals are also less likely to offer skin the complete protection it needs. Out of the five mineral sunscreens tested, only two met their SPF claims. California Baby Super Sensitive SPF 30+, $20 (2.9 ounces), didn’t receive high enough scores to be recommended, but it was the only mineral sunscreen that got a good rating for UVA and UVB protection; titanium dioxide is the active ingredient. Goddess Garden Organics Sunny Body Natural 30 also met its SPF claim, but didn’t earn high scores for UVA protection.
About Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports is the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit, consumer organization working to improve the lives of consumers by driving marketplace change. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has achieved substantial gains for consumers on health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other issues. The organization has advanced important policies to cut hospital-acquired infections, prohibit predatory lending practices and combat dangerous toxins in food. Consumer Reports tests and rates thousands of products and services in its 50-plus labs, state-of-the-art auto test center and consumer research center. Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, works for pro-consumer laws and regulations in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. With more than eight million subscribers to its flagship magazine, website and other publications, Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, payment or other support from the companies whose products it evaluates.