Burn Notice: Nearly Half of Sunscreens Flunk SPF Claims

Burn Notice: Nearly Half of Sunscreens Flunk SPF Claims

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Erin Quinlan
May 28, 2016
Chris and Kristen's Dreamy Houseboat
(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

Ever come home with a tomato-red complexion after spending a day outdoors—despite slicking yourself in sunscreen? Shady product labeling could be to blame, according to a Consumer Reports investigation.

Of 104 sunscreens tested over a four-year period, 48 percent failed to deliver the sun-protection factor on their labels. Mineral formulas—intended to physically reflect ultraviolet rays from skin—fared especially poorly, with 74 percent missing the mark. While chemical sunscreens were more reliable (they work by converting UV radiation to heat), 42 percent still fell short of claims.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration generally doesn’t verify sunscreen claims independently, the report notes. Manufacturers conduct testing on their own, and they rarely disclose results.

SPF is a measure of how well a product guards against UVB radiation, the ultraviolet form largely responsible for visible sunburn—and a well established cause of skin cancer.

Still, some sunscreens managed to earn high marks in Consumer Reports2016 ratings.

Three products that passed muster in this year's tests.
(Image credit: Erin Quinlan)
Best spray: Trader Joe's Spray SPF 50+
Best lotion: La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk
Best stick: Coppertone Kids Stick SPF 55

Also worth noting: Sunscreen isn’t the only way to protect skin from sun damage. The Skin Cancer Foundation advises covering up with clothing, wearing a wide-brim hat, and seeking shade in late morning and early afternoon.

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