Dermatologists recommend using an SPF of at least 30 to block out a majority of the sun’s UVB rays. Prolonged exposure to UVB rays that cause sunburn can lead to skin cancer. We want to protect our kids and ourselves from the dangers of the sun and I don’t know about you, but I grab the highest SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreen I can find. Logic says it will provide the best protection against the damaging effects of UV rays.  Surprisingly, a recent study suggests that most sunscreens do not live up to the claims they make. Consumer Reports conducted independent testing on lotion, sprays and sticks with an SPF of 30. Their study included both chemical sunscreens and mineral-based sunscreens. They discovered that almost half of the chemical sunscreens they tested had less SPF than stated on the label. Natural and organic sunscreens scored the worst, as only 26% met the SPF on the label.  The study revealed that most of the sunscreens tested fell short by about 10 to 15 points.

They reported their finding to the manufacturers, most of whom refuted Consumer Reports’ findings.  Some opted to retest their products following FDA guidelines they are required to adhere to and found their SPF claims were spot on.  Why were there discrepancies? Consumer Reports tested the sunscreens after exposure to water; the manufacturers did not have that variable in their testing. The question then, is whether Consumer Reports testing was fair or if it was more of a real world scenario?

Still, it is better to err on the side of caution and opt for an SPF that is 30 or higher. SPF 30 will block 97% of the UVB rays, while SPF of 50 and 100 will block 98% to 99% respectfully. Some argue there is little reason to opt for a higher SPF, and believe it is a mere marketing ploy to get people to purchase more sunscreen.

Which sunscreen is better, mineral or chemical blocker?   Both have their plusses and minuses. The best one for your family depends on several factors. If you have sensitive skin, are prone to rosacea or eczema or simply prefer an all-natural product, opt for the mineral-based sunscreen.  The only ingredients found in mineral sunscreen are titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or both.  Chemical blockers may irritate sensitive skin.  If you opt for the natural sunscreen, be vigilant, as it will wear off more quickly than the chemical blocker sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens usually clump after being on the skin for extended periods, which may be the reason they did not perform in the study as well as those with chemical blocker ingredients.

Your best bet for protecting yourself and your family is to look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has both chemical and mineral blockers with an SPF of at least 30. Together they offer the best protection against both UVA and UVB rays.  Use at least a palm sized dollop and cover your body liberally, remembering to reapply every two hours, and especially after spending time in the water. If we can draw one useful conclusion from the discrepancies between the Consumer Reports studies and those conducted by the manufacturers it is that sunscreen is almost useless after water exposure.

Consumer Reports gave LaRoche-Posay Athelios 60 Melt in Sunscreen Milk, Neutrogena Beach Defense Water + Sun Protection SPF70, and Coppertone Water Babies SPF50 all high marks. One thing to note, is that skin care companies like Aveeno and Neutrogena are subsidiaries of pharmaceutical companies and have to meet stringent guidelines that others do not.

Incidences of skin cancer are on the rise and it only takes one bad sunburn to increase your risk. You can reduce your risk by using sunscreen, whether it has mineral ingredients, chemical ingredients or a combination of the two.   Do not forget to reapply throughout the day and after every swim.