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Best Sunscreens: A Consumer Reports Ranking

Best Sunscreens: A Consumer Reports Ranking Consumer Reports Selects Sunscreens It Says Are Best at Warding Off Wrinkles, Sunburn, and Skin Cancers WebMD Medical News By Bill Hendrick Reviewed by...

May 25, 2010 -- A major consumers’ group has rated the sunscreens it says work best at blocking harmful ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation that cause sunburns, wrinkles, and certain skin cancers.

Consumer Reports Health tested 12 products and found four it says protect a touch better than the others.

The top four are:

  • Up & Up Sport Continuous SPF 30, by Target. It is administered by spray and costs $0.88 per ounce.
  • Walgreens Sport Continuous SPF 50. Also a spray. Cost, $1.33 per ounce.
  • Banana Boat Sport Performance Continuous SPF 30. Spray. Cost, $1.60 per ounce.
  • Aveeno Continuous Protection SPF 50. Spray. Cost, $2 an ounce.

The products were tested in an outside laboratory, which checked product claims of how well their sun protection factor, or SPF, lasted on volunteers who soaked in water for 80 minutes. SPF rates the level of UVB protection.

The FDA has proposed a UVA star rating system for sunscreen labels of one to four stars to indicate the level of UVA protection. Currently there is no protection factor for UVA radiation on any labels.

The top four sunscreens provided “very good” UVA protection and “excellent” UVB protection, and met their SPF claims even after treated skin was in water for 80 minutes.

Each of the sunscreens had a moderately intense floral or citrus scent and left little residue on the skin.

Up & Up also received a “best buy” ranking from Consumer Reports Health. All four of the top brands cost a lot less than La Roche-Posay, which costs $18.82 per ounce.

Ranking below the top four were:

  • Coppertone Water Babies, with an SPF of 50 and a cost per ounce of $1.38. It is a lotion.
  • Coppertone UltraGuard Continuous rated a 70+ in SPF, costing $1.62 per ounce. Spray.
  • No-Ad with Aloe and Vitamin rated 45 on the SPF scale, costing $0.59 per ounce. Lotion.
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist with Helioplex had a 45 SPF, costing $1.90 per ounce. Spray.
  • Badger scored a PDF of 30, costing $4.83 per ounce. Lotion.
  • La Roche-Posay Anthelios 40 with Mexoryl SX, scored a 40 SPF, costing $18.82 per ounce. Cream.
  • Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Expedition scores a SPF of 30, costing $3.50 per ounce. Pump spray.
  • Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free with Hemp Seed Oil got a 30 SPF, costing $4 per ounce. Lotion.

Consumer Reports Health says the active ingredient in Burt’s Bees, titanium dioxide, does not absorb the entire UVA spectrum as effectively as alternatives like avobenzone.

Avon, Consumer Reports Health says, makes no claim about protection from UVA rays, but the product doubles as a bug repellent.

Tips for Avoiding Sunburn

The report says sunbathers should buy sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which it says is enough for most people, and that sunscreens also should be water resistant.

Consumer Reports Health offers the following recommendations:

  • Adults looking for full-body protection should apply 2 to 3 tablespoons of lotion 15 to 30 minutes before going out into the sun. The screen should be reapplied every two hours or after swimming or sweating. It says putting on sunscreen spray when it’s windy can be a tricky proposition.
  • Don’t spray or rub sunscreen on clothes, because the products can stain.
  • People should wear tightly woven clothing and a hat, limit exposure in the sun, and seek shade during the hottest parts of the day.
  • If the sunscreen you buy has no expiration date, write down when you buy it with a permanent marker. Discard at the expiration date, or when you’ve had the product for more than two years, when potency is often lost.

 “A top-performing sunscreen isn’t going to give you any protection if its smell or the way it feels on your skin is so offensive to you that you won’t use it,” Gayle Williams, deputy editor of Consumer Reports Health, says in a news release. “The Aveeno Continuous protection spray is one of the mildest in terms of scent and leaves a bit of a greasy residue that is mild compared to some others. But if you prefer that beach scent, you might try the Up & Up by Target or the Walgreens Sport Continuous.”

The article is published in the May 25 issue of Consumer Reports.

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