The consumer advocacy magazine, Consumer Reports, recently released results of testing of 58 formulations of sunscreens. Their findings are keeping with a trend that they, and many other consumer protection agencies worldwide, are seeing: sun protection claims, including SPF numbers, are often quite inaccurate or misleading. Of concern is that the FDA requires manufacturers to perform tests to determine the SPF of a sunscreen, but the FDA does not routinely perform tests to confirm these ratings. It falls to independent testers like Consumer Reports to confirm these results.
The American Academy of Dermatology currently recommends an SPF of 30 or above for adequate protection from cancer causing UVB radiation from the sun. They also stress the importance of using the correct amount (a shot glass approximates the amount needed to cover an average adult) and reapplication (most sunscreens loose half of their effectiveness in 2 hours, sooner if exposed to water). While is does not have a numerical protection factor like UVB, sunscreens that provide UVA protection can offer further protection from the aging properties of ultraviolet radiation as well as enhanced cancer prevention.
Consumer Reports found that brand and cost are not useful ways to predict the quality of protection that you receive from a sunscreen, and also found differences year to year in quality as formulations change. Another trend that was noted was the poor performance of physical or “natural” sunscreens containing Zinc or Titanium. I encourage patients to subscribe to Consumer Reports to see a complete list of ratings. At current funding levels, the FDA does not have the manpower to confirm the quality of the nearly 100,000 over-the-counter drugs which it oversees. It falls to consumer protection organizations like Consumer Reports to fill in the gaps and to hold manufacturers accountable.
The following products were rated as “best buys” for their combination of good protection and reasonable price: