Safety from skin cancer is nothing to cut corners on, as the disease strikes 4.3 million new people each year in the US.
Before you know it, you’ll be packing your bag to hit the beach – and you’ll want to be sure to bring the right sunscreen.
Consumer Reports has revealed the best – and worst – sunscreens and sprays money can buy this year.
Of the 73 sun protection products they reviewed, an astounding 24 had only half the SPF they claimed to on their bottles.
DO BUY: Despite vastly different price points, the $36.00 tube of Anthelios (left) sunscreen lotion and Walmart’s $5.00 Equate product (right) topped Consumer Reports 2018 rankings
Every year, the ‘natural’ sunscreens come out the losers on Consumer Reports, and 2018 is no exception.
Not a single (purportedly) mineral, natural or organic sunscreen made the cut to be recommended.
There is a good reason for this.
Organic substances absorb UV rays from the sun. Inorganic materials, on the other hand, reflect the sun’s light.
Substances like titanium dioxide and zinc dioxide – the bright white stuff dads always seem to have on their noses in campy movies – are reflective, but that alone is not sufficient to block the sun.
An active ingredient, called avobenzone, helps to absorb UV radiation, greatly boosting the protection other inorganic chemicals provide your skin.
Though people with more melanin in their skin – and, therefore, darker skin tones – have more natural shielding from the sun, everyone needs addition protection.
Even if you don’t see a sunburn, people of all skin colors and races can get skin cancer, which strikes one in every five Americans.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) urges everyone to wear sunscreen that protects against both UVA rays – which penetrate deep into the skin’s middle layer – and UVB rays that cause superficial burning.
A sunscreen should have at least an SPF of at least 30, the AAD says.
Consumer Reports tested how well each of the 73 sunscreens they tested held up against both forms of sun radiation to determine their ratings.
The leading sunscreens on this year’s Consumer Reports list all contain active chemical ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone or octinoxate.
Babyganics’s (left) and Elta MD’s (right) mineral-based sunscreens failed to provide even half the SPF claimed on their bottles
Effectiveness is not as simple as just having the right chemical ingredients, though.
‘You can take two different sunscreens with the exact same ingredients and they may test differently and that’s because how they perform really has to do with the formulation and how the ingredients interact,’ says Trisha Calvo, Consumer Reports’s sunscreen expert.
The best formulation for a lotion belonged to one called Anthelios, made by La Roche-Posay and costing a dizzying $36 for a five-ounce bottle.
But the second best lotion, Walmart’s own Equate Sport Lotion SPF 50, scored just one point less, at 99 and, at $5, is a fraction of the cost of Anthelios.
Similarly, the top-ranked spray sunscreen was Trader Joe’s in-house product, which goes for $6 and got full points from Consumer Reports.
Calvo says this comes as no surprise.
Each year when the publication reviews sunscreens, they find that ‘there’s no real correlation between price and performance,’ she says.
She cautions that, while they will still provide some protection, the mineral-only sunscreens consistently under-perform in Consumer Reports’s tests.
‘Chemical sunscreens with active ingredients absorb UV rays, versus deflecting them, which mineral sunscreens do. It’s almost like the UV bounces back on your skin’ when you apply mineral-only sunscreens, Calvo says.
CeraVe’s Body Lotion SPF 50 relies only on zinc oxide to block UV rays, and the product tested at less than half that SPF.
Babyganics’s Mineral-based Sunscreen 50+SPF also fell at the very bottom of Consumer Reports’s rankings.
Its ingredients include octisalate, a ‘mild chemical sunscreen agent derived from salicylic acid,’ a chemical that does not in fact act as a UV filter.
At $8.50, chemicals in the Bull Frog sunscreen lotion (left) provide plenty of sun protection, while CeraVe’s Zinc-based lotion (right) bombed Consumer Reports’s tests
The Babyganics lotion also provided less than half the protection it claimed.
Despite their inaccurate labels, Calvo says that these products are not actually in violation of any Food and Drug Administration regulations.
She explains: ‘The FDA requires that manufacturers test product. But when they test their product they don’t have to submit their results to the FDA, nor does the FDA test sunscreen itself.’
Instead, the companies just have to keep their results on-hand, just in case the FDA ever comes asking questions.
But, Calvo notes: ‘Any sunscreen is better than none, even ones at the bottom will provide some protection but may not be the most you could get if you made a different choice.’
‘SPF also isn’t everything…people get a false sense of security from sunscreen and looking at products and thinking, “I can stay out in the sunshine forever if I get this really high SPF”.
‘In general, they tend to not apply enough ore reapply it often enough,’ which needs to be done every two hours, Calvo says.
She adds that people likely rely on sunscreen too heavily in general.
‘Some people have the impression that if you’re wearing sunscreen it’s okay to be out in the sun all day long, but that isn’t the case and the main reason is that [sunscreen] doesn’t block all the UV rays,’ she says.
‘We’ve all seen people that go to the beach and use sunscreen every day, but by the end of the summer, their skin is much darker.
‘Well, that’s a sign that they’re getting some exposure.’
The only way to truly stay safe is to stay indoors, but since we all crave some time outside, she (and the AAD) recommend covering as much of your body as you can, wearing a hat, staying in the shade and avoid being outside between 10am and 2pm.
‘Any color change in your skin is a sign that that you’re damaging it. As they say: ‘there’s no such thing as a safe tan,’ Calvo warns.