It’s that time of year again, where we frantically rummage in our bathroom cupboards for the sandy, goopy best sunscreen bottle of last summer or go to the store to stock up.
Whether your choice of sunscreen depends on whether it smells nice, goes on easily, is not too greasy, or is cruelty-free, be sure to check out the latest information from Consumer Reports. You might be surprised to see that some top-selling sunscreens simply don’t cut it when it comes to actually protecting your skin from harmful ultraviolet light.
Every year, Consumer Reports carry out a bunch of tests to reveal the best sunscreen. They compare the lotions’ abilities to protect the skin, in addition to assessing cost, sensory qualities, and other factors.
The report notes that almost 1 in 3 products tested did not meet the sun protection factor (SPF) claim on their label, failing by some 16-70%. While for some this isn’t a major issue as they still provided decent protection, the discrepancy could easily mean that users of such products have a false sense of security in the sun.
The best sunscreen for 2016
In recent years, the top performer for best sunscreen has been No-Ad Sport SPF 50. This year, No-Ad has slipped down to 5th place, however. The top five sunscreens for 2016 as reported by Consumer Reports are as follows:
- Vichy Capital Soleil 50 Light Weight Foaming Lotion – scored 99 out of 100, but costs an astonishing $5.94 an ounce
- Pure Sun Defense Disney Frozen / Despicable Me / Avengers / Spider-Man SPF 50 – scored 98 out of 100, and costs 75 cents an ounce
- Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 – scored 98 out of 100, and costs $1.31 an ounce
- Equate Ultra Protection Sunscreen SPF 50 – scored 94 out of 100, and costs just 56 cents an ounce (it is a Walmart product)
- No-Ad Sport SPF 50 – scored 88 out of 100, and costs 63 cents an ounce.
Worst Sunscreens of 2016
Sunscreens with ratings lower than the five listed above did not meet the criteria for an ‘excellent’ SPF rating. Some of the worst offenders include:
- Babyganics mineral-based SPF 50+ – SPF was assessed at just 25, and the product scored just 44 out of 100
- Walgreens Baby SPF 50 – also came in at 25 SPF, with a score of 43 out of 100
- Vanicream SPF 50+ – this cream was found to only offer an SPF of 17!
- Shiseido WetForce Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion for Face/Body SPF 50+ – while this cream did meet its label claim for SPF, it costs $12.12 per ounce and only offers fair protection against UVA, giving it a score of just 40 out of 100
- Bare Republic Natural Mineral Sport SPF 50 – this lotion didn’t meet its label claim, with just an 18 SPF rating and an overall score of 38
- Kiss My Face baby’s first kiss SPF 50 – the SPF was just 22 and the score overall was 38
- yesto cucumbers Natural SPF 30 – with a score of just 35 out of 100, this one had an assessed SPF of just 14
- Aloe Gator SPF 40+ Gel – this gel sunscreen did meet its label claim for SPF but offered only poor UVA coverage, giving it a score of just 21 out of 100.
The report also lists spray sunscreens. The top marks went to Equate Sport Continuous Spray SPF 30, scoring 84 out of 100 and costing $1.33 per ounce.
Several sunscreens aimed at kids didn’t meet their label claims, including Banana Boat Sport Performance with PowerStay Technology SPF 100 which only had an SPF of 36, and CVS Baby Pure & Gentle SPF 60 which only had an SPF of 18!
Sunscreen safety concerns
Sun safety is key to cutting your risk of skin cancer. It’s important to know, however, that sunscreen sprays are flammable. You should not use sunscreen sprays near an open flame (such as a camping stove), and be sure to let them dry before lighting the barbecue. The FDA is still investigating the safety of these sprays if inhaled, so it’s best not to use them on your face and to avoid using them on children.
There are also safety concerns over nanoparticles and other ingredients in certain sunscreens (the health benefits outweigh the potential risks in almost all cases). Nanoparticles have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in animals. Retinoids have been linked to birth defects and an increased risk of skin cancer in humans and mice respectively.
If you can, avoid sunscreens where the active ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide if those lotions go on clear or almost clear as this suggests the use of nanoparticles. If you’re pregnant, consider using a sunscreen without retinoids. Check the label for retinol palmitate or retinyl palmitate to be safe.
Using at least some sunscreen is better than using none if you can’t track down one of the better performing brands. Make sure to apply the best sunscreen generously half an hour or so before sun exposure. Reapply the lotion often and after swimming and towelling as this can remove even water-resistant sunscreens.