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Real Simple
May 15, 2018 4:00 pm

If you were under the impression sunscreen companies were always honest, you’re in for a rude awakening. I’m sorry to be the bearer of this news but the amount of SPF written on your sunscreen bottles isn’t always the same amount that’s in the sunscreen itself. In fact, it could be way less than what you think you’re getting.

Consumer Reports came out with its 2018 report of the best sunscreens and, along with the rankings, revealed some pretty shocking stuff that made my naive, sun-fearing jaw literally drop.

According to CBS News, in lab tests of 73 lotion, stick, or spray sunscreens, Consumer Reports uncovered 24 products that had less than half of their purported SPF values.

For refresher: SPF is the protective factor that shields you from UVB rays; for UVA and UVB protection, you need to look out for broad spectrum SPF. These sunscreens may still be effective but definitely not as effective as you’re being led to believe, which completely confused me because both SPF and broad spectrum designations are regulated by the FDA.

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Related article: The skin care products you really need

I spoke to FDA representative Sandy Walsh, who explained that manufacturers themselves are responsible for meeting the regulations set forth by the FDA with their own testing and submission of results; testing is not typically conducted by the agency itself. The FDA can inspect manufacturers, though, and if sunscreen brands are discovered not to be meeting the regulations, they’re then subject to FDA action.

Sunscreen manufacturers get around some other FDA rules with calculated marketing language, like using the word “sport” to imply more durability because “sweatproof” and “waterproof” claims are banned. In addition to “sport,” there are no official guidelines for what “dermatologist recommended,” “hypoallergenic,” “clinically proven,” “natural,” and “mineral” mean on cosmetics labels.

Consumer Reports found the best sunscreens, both in presenting the most accurate SPF information and in effectiveness, are:

  1. La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk ($19.99, dermstore.com)
  2. Equate (Walmart) Sport Lotion SPF 50 ($4.98; walmart.com)
  3. BullFrog Land Sport Quik Gel SPF 50 ($8.49; walmart.com)
  4. Coppertone WaterBabies SPF 50 Lotion ($6.38; walmart.com)

For more on skincare practices and label terms to be skeptical of on cosmetics, visit The American Academy of Dermatology.

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