Consumer Reports tests best sunscreens just in time for summer

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Summer's nearly here, which means fun in the sun. But no matter your age or skin color, if you're going to be outside longer than a few minutes, you'll need to use sunscreen to protect yourself against skin cancer and wrinkles.

There are so many different kinds of sunscreen on the market, so Consumer Reports is cutting through all the jargon to help find the best sunscreen for you.

What do you look for on a sunscreen label? Water resistant? Natural? SPF of at least 50?

"There are so many claims on sunscreen bottles, it can be really confusing to figure out which one to buy," said Trisha Calvo, Consumer Reports Health Editor.

SPF is a measure of how well a sunscreen guards against ultraviolet B rays from the sun - the chief cause of sunburn, and a contributor to skin cancer.

As part of Consumer Reports testing, sunscreen is applied to subjects' backs and then they soak in a tub for 40 or 80-minutes, depending on the product's water-resistance claim.

The area is then exposed to UVB light. The next day, trained experts examine the area for redness.

"In our sunscreen tests, we found that many sunscreens don't meet the SPF level printed on the package. So Consumer Reports recommends buying a chemical sunscreen with an SPF 40 or higher," said Susan Booth, Consumer Reports Product Testing

Two of Consumer Reports' top best buy sunscreens are: Equate Walmart Sport Lotion SPF 50 ($5) and Trader Joe's Spray SPF 50 ($6).

If you're looking for a sunscreen containing mineral ingredients, thinking they contain fewer chemicals - shop carefully!

"In our sunscreen tests in recent years, we haven't found a mineral sunscreen that provides both top-notch protection and meets its labeled SPF," warns Booth.

But what about water resistant sunscreens?

"Don't make the mistake of thinking that water-resistant means waterproof. The minute you get into the water or start to sweat, the sunscreen starts to come off. So when you get out of the water, you have to reapply," said Calvo.

To have a great sunburn free summer, Consumer Reports recommends applying sunscreen 15 minutes before you go out. Be sure to cover often overlooked spots, such as your ears, upper back, the backs of your hands and the tops of your feet. And reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

If you're wondering if that old half used tube of sunscreen is still good, Consumer Reports says sunscreen is formulated to remain effective for at least three years. So, toss that sunscreen if it's past its expiration date. And if you can't find an expiration date, and don't remember when you bought that sunscreen, play it safe and buy a new one.

And if the environment is on your mind, be mindful that sunscreens with reef safe claims may not be as environmentally friendly as you think. Sunscreen manufacturers don't have to test or demonstrate that their product is actually reef safe. A better environmentally friendly bet is to wear a UPF swim shirt or rash guard when you swim in the ocean. You'll still have to apply sunscreen to exposed skin, but you'll use far less.

To read the full story from Consumer Reports, CLICK HERE.

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