Putting sunscreens to the test

May 15, 2012 4:08:25 PM PDT
When it comes to protecting your skin and preventing skin cancer, are expensive brands the way to go, or will cheaper sunscreens get the job done?

Every year more than a million cancers diagnosed are considered sun-related, according to the American Cancer Society. But as we found out, protecting your skin doesn't mean dishing out a lot of cash when it comes to sunscreens.

Whether you're relaxing on the beach or enjoying the waves, it's critically important to protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun.

Consumer Reports has tested 18 sunscreens -- mostly sprays and lotions -- from names like Banana Boat and Coppertone to Neutrogena and Aveeno.

"We test to see how well the sunscreens protect against two types of radiation -- UVB, which causes sunburn, and UVA, which penetrates deeper, resulting in tanning and aging of the skin," explained Consumer Reports' Nicole Sarrubo.

Both types contribute to skin cancer, so it's important to use a sunscreen that protects against both. To test, Consumer Reports applies sunscreen to panelists' backs, and then exposes them to either UVA or UVB rays. Testers also check water resistance. Panelists sit in water for up to 80 minutes, depending on the product's claims.

Sarrubo said, "We also performed a new critical wavelength test mandated by the FDA that determines if the sunscreen offers a sufficient level of UVA protection."

Two products that claim both UVA and UVB protection failed this test -- Banana Boat Kids and Alba Botanica.

But for fun in the sun without the worry, Consumer Reports did find two very good, inexpensive sunscreens -- No-Ad SPF 45 and Walgreen's Continuous Spray Sunscreen Sport SPF 50. Both rated very good against UVA and excellent against UVB radiation, making them great options for your next day at the beach.

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