Your Sunscreen May Not Be Providing The Protection Advertised

Sunscreen companies may be cheating you out of your SPF.

It’s almost summertime. Time for bikinis, beach parties and all around fun in the sun.

By now we all know the negative effects from overexposure to the sun—sunburn; dry, leathery skin, wrinkles; premature aging and the dreaded skin cancer.

So we dutifully slather on loads of sunscreen for preventative measures—and then go play and frolic outdoors—worry free… protected from harmful UVA and UVB rays right?

Maybe not.

Consumer Reports conducted a test of 65 sunscreen lotions, sprays and sticks with an SPF of at least 30 – which is the minimum level recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology.

The Test

The test itself was pretty simple and straight forward.

Waterproof Sunscreen test

People were asked to apply the sunscreen on their backs and sit in water for the amount of water-resistant time the product labels claimed to provide protection.

Once the time expired, the test subjects were exposed to UV light.

They were examined for redness the following day.

UVB Test   

UVB was scored similarly to the way people evaluate sunscreen in real life: by how red they were after sun exposure.

The lab applied different sunscreens to patches of skin on the backs of people on the review panel.

Test subjects were immersed in water and then exposed to six levels of UVB light. Each sunscreen was scored by how red the skin patches were the next day.

UVA Test 

UVA protection was tested by seeing how much light passed through the sunscreen.

The product was applied to a plastic plate and then  a UV light was shined through it.

The results

The report found that 43 percent of all sunscreens tested failed to meet their SPF claims.

Trisha Calvo, Deputy Editor for Health & Food at Consumer Reports, told CBS News, “When you have something that’s an SPF 30, and it tests at or below an SPF 15, that’s worrisome because you’re getting less protection than what most dermatologists and experts recommend,”

The most dramatic results came from The Banana Boat Kids Tear-Free, Sting-Free lotion which claimed to have an SPF of 50 and CVS Kids Sun Lotion also labeled as SPF 50.

Both came in at an SPF 8.

“What’s interesting about those sunscreens is that they are the ones that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide is the active ingredient,” Calvo said. “Those mineral-based sunscreens overall in our test didn’t perform as well as the ones with chemicals like avobenzone,”

Consumer Reports also completely discounted the idea of a waterproof sunscreen, saying that “no such product exists.”

Shiseido’s WefForce Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion SPF 50+ advertises that soaking in water for 30 minutes actually enhances the products protection, but Consumer Reports found that statement to be false during its testing.

The product was even tested on subjects’ dry skin and then again after they soaked in the water for the recommended time.

“…we found no difference in the SPF performance, but I have to say that the sunscreen met its SPF claim and it provided excellent UVB protection,” Calvo said.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the use of sunscreen is not optional. They propose the following guidelines to prevent overexposure:

Use a sunscreen with SPF between 30 and 50, even on cloudy days
Apply one ounce for the whole body, a shot-glass size amount
Reapply every two hours or after swimming, including on the back
Minimize time in the sun between peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wear clothes that protect from sun exposure: dark colors that deflect light, tightly woven fabrics or UV-protective clothing.

Consumer Reports published its findings and compiled a list of their recommendations for sunscreens that have very good or excellent SPF and UVA scores.

Featured image by Glorius Gaduang on Flickr, available for use under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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Author Profile: Consumer Expert Denise Hill

Denise is currently a writer and editor for a federal agency in Washington, DC. She is an open-minded free spirit always ready for new adventures. She enjoys traveling and relishes being exposed to alternate points of view. Faith, family and finances are the core of her value system. She follows her own path and marches to her own beat. She is a dream chaser and with her husband and best friend by her side, she plans to take over the world.

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