Consumer Reports: One-Third of Tested Sunscreens Delivered Less Than Half of Labeled SPF Protection

May 17, 2017

For the fifth year in a row, Consumer Reports’ testing has shown that some sunscreens failed to provide the level of protection promised on the package.

Of the more than 60 lotions, sprays, sticks, and lip balms in our ratings this year, 23 tested at less than half their labeled SPF number. To check for UVB (SPF) protection, a standard amount of each sunscreen is applied to small areas of our panelists’ backs. Then they soak in a tub of water. Afterward, each area is exposed to six intensities of UVB light from a sun simulator for a set time. About a day later, a trained technician examines the areas for redness. The resulting UVB protection ratings reflect each product’s actual effectiveness after water immersion and are based on an average of our results for each sunscreen.

CR isn’t the only independent consumer organization that has found this discrepancy. Other members of International Consumer Research and Testing (a global group of consumer organizations) in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. have also found differences between the labeled SPF and the tested SPF in sunscreens on the market in those countries.

Some of the top-rated sunscreens include:

La Roche-Posay, Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk, $36

Equate, Sport Lotion SPF 50, $5

Pure, Sun Defense Disney Frozen Lotion SPF 50, $6

Coppertone, WaterBabies Lotion SPF 50, $12

Equate, Ultra Protection Lotion SPF 50, $8

They also give high marks to Trader Joe's Spray SPF 50+ and Banana Boat SunComfort Clear UltraMist Spray and Equate Sport Continuous Spray SPF 30.

Consumer Reports recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 40. It should also contain ingredients like avobenzone rather than "natural" ingredients. The “natural” sunscreen that ranked highest in CR’s ratings was California Kids #Supersensitive Lotion SPF 30+. It has an overall Good rating, a Very Good score for UVB protection, an Excellent variation from SPF rating, but it rated only Fair for UVA protection.


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