5 best sunscreens for summer
Consumer Reports tested 73 sunscreen products. These five will keep you safest from the sun.
Katie Mcpherson Published: 6/28/2018
Have you ever stood in the sunscreen aisle and been overwhelmed by the number of choices for sale? Which will give you the best protection from the sun while you enjoy your summer day outdoors? Which is safest for your kids?
Each year, Consumer Reports puts the entire sunscreen aisle to the test, comparing and ranking every product with an SPF of 30 or more and claims to be water-resistant for 40 to 80 minutes.
“The incidence of melanoma is higher the closer you live to the equator,” said Christopher Pezzi, MD, FACS, surgical oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Rates are significantly higher in Florida, Texas and Arizona than in the northern U.S. This is due to increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. It’s crucial for us to use sun protection that is effective.”
Each product received a score between 0 and 100 at the end of the experiment, and only those in the 81-and-up range earn a coveted Consumer Reports recommendation. These five products are water-resistant for the times they claim, have an accurate SPF listed on their packaging, and all use chemical active ingredients rather than mineral.
1. La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk, SPF 60
$36, or $7.20 an ounce
Score of 100
This lotion topped the Consumer Reports list for the third year running and remains their No. 1 choice for sun protection.
2. Trader Joe’s Spray, SPF 50+
$6, or $1 an ounce
Score of 100
Trader Joe's sunscreen is the only other product to score a perfect 100, but is more affordable than the La Roche-Posay lotion.
3. Equate Sport Lotion, SPF 50
$5, or 63 cents an ounce
Score of 99
Quality sun protection doesn’t have to be costly or hard to find. Equate is sold in all Walmart stores, so it should be available just about anywhere.
4. BullFrog Land Sport Quik Gel, SPF 50
$8.50, or $1.70 cents an ounce
Score of 95
This is a quick-drying formula that lasts up to 80 minutes through heavy sweating. As a bonus, it applies and dries completely clear.
5. Up & Up Stick Sunscreen, SPF 55
$8, or $6.67 an ounce
Score of 85
This sunscreen from Target's in-house brand was the only stick to score above 81 and earn a recommendation from Consumer Reports.
Even if you’re not breaking up with your favorite sunscreen in favor of one of Consumer Reports’ recommendations, consider their other findings as guidelines when shopping for sun protection to ensure you’re getting the sun protection you need.
“Skin cancer is the most common cancer type in the U.S.,” said Dr. Pezzi. “While many cancer rates are declining, the annual incidence of melanoma continues to rise about 3.1 percent every year. At least half of children and adolescents report one or more sunburns per year — having five or more blistering sunburns while young increases the risk of melanoma by 80 percent.”
Over years of testing, Consumer Reports has found that mineral sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as active ingredients don’t perform as well as those with chemical active ingredients, such as avobenzone or oxybenzone. No mineral sunscreens scored well enough to make their list of recommendations this year, so consider choosing one with chemical active ingredients.
SPF, or sun protection factor, measures how long your skin will be shielded from UVA and UVB rays. Consumer Reports has discovered that many sunscreens have only half the SPF listed on their labels. Of the 73 sprays, sticks and lotions tested for the 2018 rankings, 24 tested at less than half the SPF of their label. This could mean you’re not adequately protecting your skin, even if you think you are. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a product with an SPF of 30 or higher, so it’s best to purchase higher SPF than you think you need.
Consumer Reports also suggests shaking sunscreen before applying to evenly distribute the active ingredients throughout the sunscreen.
Next, don’t be shy with your application. For lotions, think of a teaspoon per area of the body to ensure you’re getting adequate protection — one teaspoon for your face and neck, one for each arm, one for your back and so on. For sprays, apply as much as can be rubbed in and then repeat.
Whether you opt for lotion or spray, reapply every two hours and immediately after swimming or sweating.
And of course, always apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside. There’s no place like Florida in the summer, but be sure to enjoy your days in the sun safely.
Consumer Reports: consumerreports.org/products/sunscreen/ratings-overview