Sunscreen Is Critical in Utah, but Which Are Best?
Utah residents are at higher risk for skin cancer and should pay special attention to a new review from Consumer Reports. It ranks the effectiveness of 20 sunscreens.
According to a fact sheet from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in Utah at a rate 37% higher than the national average. Melanoma is responsible for 75% of skin cancer deaths, the agency says.
Protecting yourself and your family from the sun’s ultraviolet rays should be on your to-do list this summer, and a good sunscreen is a big part of making that happen. “Sunscreen filters out the sun’s dangerous UV (ultraviolet) rays. These invisible rays can cause skin cancer,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In its new roundup, Consumer Reports recommends seven out of the 20 sunscreens it tested, and its findings reveal that you can’t always rely on the label.
The magazine’s top-scoring sunscreen is Banana Boat Ultra Defense Max Skin Protect SPF 110 spray, with a score of 99 out of 100. The next three—BullFrog WaterArmor Sport InstaCool SPF 50+, Neutrogena Ultimate Sport SPF 70+ and Target house brand Up & Up Sport SPF 50—scored 90 or higher.
The Up & Up sunscreen and the Walmart in-house brand Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50 are both labeled Consumer Reports Best Buys.
The report found that only two provided the SPF promised on their packages after water immersion: BullFrog WaterArmor Sport InstaCool SPF 50+ and Coppertone Sensitive Skin SPF 50.
A full 16 out of the 20 tested came in between 4% and 40% below their stated SPF. Still, Consumer Reports says, some sunscreen is better than none. “Even an SPF 30 sunscreen that comes in, say, 40 percent below its claim gives you an SPF of 18.”
Not All Sunscreens Work the Same
The wide variation in effectiveness highlights what Douglas Grossman, M.D., an investigator at University of Utah Health Care’s Huntsman Cancer Institute's Melanoma Program and an associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, says is consumers’ biggest misconception about sunscreen: that all products work equally well.
“If you use a product that contains zinc or titanium dioxide, these minerals stay on the skin and are much longer-lasting,” he says. “Most products contain chemical sunscreens that do break down, and these should be reapplied every two to three hours. For that reason, I recommend the mineral-containing sunscreens.”
There’s also the question of lotions versus sprays. Although a handful of sprays made its recommended list, Consumer Reports says you should stick to lotions for kids. Some sprays contain titanium dioxide, which the CDC labels a potential occupational carcinogen when inhaled.
Grossman says lotions have another advantage over sprays, too. “I prefer lotions, which usually result in more of the product actually being applied to the skin,” he says.
It’s also important to wear sunscreen even if you think you don’t need to. “The sun’s UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Put sunscreen on before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days,” the CDC advises.
Other protective steps include avoiding being outside during the middle part of the day and wearing sun-protective clothing, Grossman says.