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Print

Release Date: 05/25/2010

Consumer Reports Health: Sunscreen Sprays Outshine the Rest

Tips for protecting your skin this summer

CR JUL 2010 Cover YONKERS, NY — Memo to beach bums: get ready to pump it and spray it, and don’t apply it in the wind.  New tests of sunscreens by Consumer Reports Health reveal that four spray-on sunscreens provided the best protection from the sun’s Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.  The ratings are available in the July issue of the magazine and online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.   The magazine also looks at insect repellents.

Consumer Reports Health identified four products that earned top overall scores: Up & Up Sport Continuous SPF 30 (Target), a CR “Best Buy;” Walgreens Sport Continuous SPF 50; Banana Boat Sport Performance Continuous SPF 30; and Aveeno Continuous Protection SPF 50.  These products provided Very Good UVA protection and Excellent UVB protection and met their SPF claim even after treated skin was soaked in water for 80 minutes.   

At an outside lab, Consumer Reports Health assessed how well each product blocked UVA and UVB rays, in addition to how well they lived up to their claimed sun protection factor—the measure of UVB protection—after volunteers soaked in water while wearing the sunscreen.  UVA and UVB can both cause sunburn, skin damage, and certain skin cancers.  UVA can also cause wrinkles.  SPF is a measure of UVB sun protection on skin treated with sunscreen; put simply, if your skin normally turns red in ten minutes, then an SPF of 30 could lengthen that time to 300 minutes.

Consumer Reports Health also evaluated how the sunscreens smelled, felt, and absorbed into the skin. Those tests were performed by Consumer Reports’ trained sensory panelists.  The sensory test results are available online only at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.  Overall, the top four performing sunscreens had a slight or moderately intense floral or citrus scent and left little residue on the skin.

“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,” said Gayle Williams, deputy editor, Consumer Reports Health.  “The Aveeno Continuous Protection spray is one of the mildest in terms of scent and leaves a bit of 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.”

Tips for buying and using sunscreens:

  • Buy sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 (plenty for most people) that claims to be water resistant.
  • For full-body protection, adults should apply 2 to 3 tablespoons of lotion 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Applying sprays can be tricky if it’s windy.
  • To avoid staining your beach clothes, don’t spray or rub sunscreen on clothes.
  • Wear tightly woven clothing and a hat, limit your sun time, and seek shade during the hottest hours of the day.
  • If you buy a sunscreen and it has no expiration date, write down the purchase date on the bottle with a permanent marker. Discard your sunscreen at its expiration date or if you’ve had it for more than two years as it may have lost its potency.
  • Don’t make your purchase decisions based on brand alone. Different formulas or SPFs within the same brand may not have equivalent performance.

Keep the Bugs at Bay

Consumer Reports Health also tested 10 insect repellents at an outside lab, where brave testers bared their arms in mosquito-filled cages and let deer ticks crawl on them.  Consumer Reports recorded how long it took for two common types of mosquitoes to start biting and for deer ticks to decide it was safe to crawl over treated areas.

Six repellents protected against deer ticks and mosquitoes for  seven hours or more. Four of those contain deet in varying levels.  The Environmental Protection Agency judges deet safe when used as directed, but it has caused rare toxic reactions when misused.  It shouldn’t be applied to infants less than two months old.  The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against using repellents with deet concentrations higher than 30 percent on any children.  Consumer Reports Health thinks that no one needs a repellent with more than 30 percent deet.

Bottom line, most of the tested products will do the job if you’re going outside for only a couple of hours, but look for a highly rated product to protect you on longer excursions.  The six top choices, all earning a “Recommended” Rating from Consumer Reports, worked for at least seven hours, though they feel and smell somewhat different: Off! Deep Woods Sportsmen II, Cutter Backwoods Unscented, Off! FamilyCare Smooth & Dry; 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent 8, Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus, and Natrapel 8-hour with picaridin.   Log on to www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org for ratings and tips for application.

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