Summer is coming, and according to a recent report from Consumer Reports, the SPF label on your sunscreen bottle might not be providing the protection you need.
For an investigation published May 17, Consumer Reports tested 65 water-resistant sunscreen lotions, sticks, and sprays with a labeled SPF of 30 or higher. They found that 28 of them—a full 43 percent of the products tested—did not meet their advertised protection level. Two of the sunscreens even clocked in at an SPF of 8.
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“Yet again, our sunscreen testing has shown that consumers may not be getting the protection they’re paying for,” Trisha Calvo, deputy editor of health and food for Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “Just because a sunscreen claims to offer a certain level of protection doesn’t mean it does. We create and release these ratings to ensure that consumers are informed about what sunscreens work best so they can protect themselves and their families from damaging sun exposure.”
The organization also looked at data from four years of sunscreen testing—104 products in all—and found that 50 percent came in below the SPF number printed on the label, and a third tested below an SPF 30, the minimum level recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. The data also showed that mineral sunscreens, which rely on natural protectants like Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide, are more likely to fall below their SPF claims: 74 percent compared to 42 percent of chemical sunscreens.
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SPF, or sun protection factor, is a measure of the sunscreen's ability to prevent harmful UV rays from damaging the skin. That said, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying 1 ounce ("enough to fill a shot glass") of a broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to dry skin 15 minutes before going outside. You should reapply every two hours, or after swimming or excessive sweating, according to the directions on the bottle. And don't just rely on sunscreen: wear sun-protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, or sunglasses, when possible, and aim to avoid the sun during its most intense hours (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.).
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For optimum protection, Consumer Reports advises consumers to choose a chemical sunscreen with an SPF of 40 or higher to increase the likelihood that it will deliver at least an SPF 30. Their top recommendations included: La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk Lotion ($36, laroche-posay.us), Pure Sun Defense SPF 50 lotion ($6, walmart.com), No-Ad Sport SPF 50 lotion ($14, walmart.com), Banana Boat SunComfort Continuous Spray SPF 50+ ($8, target.com), and Equate Sport Continuous Spray SPF 50 ($8, walmart.com).