Finding the Best Sunscreen
So you know what SPF you should buy and what type of sunscreen you want, but how do you really choose the right sunscreen? If you want an SPF 30 waterproof spray, you’ll probably find at least a dozen options to choose from at the store. So how do you choose between those sunscreens that appear to offer the same level of protection?
Read the Label Carefully
The FDA now has stricter guidelines for labeling sunscreens, and these additional designations and ratings can help you narrow down which sunscreen would work best for you. They recently cracked down on brands claiming to be “waterproof” and “sweat proof” when they did not really offer that kind of protection. They've also cracked down on brands claiming to have broad-spectrum protection if they don't actually protect against UVA rays (“broad-spectrum” means the sunscreen should protect from both UVA and UVB). In addition, they also established a UVA star rating system, so brands claiming to offer UVA protection are now rated with one to four stars. A sunscreen with four stars offers the best UVA protection.
In addition, you should read the ingredients list to make sure the product doesn’t contain anything you might be allergic to or that might irritate your skin. This is particularly true if you have sensitive skin; always choose hypoallergenic, fragrance-free sunscreen if your skin is sensitive.
Check Consumer Reports
Each year, Consumer Reports reviews products by effectiveness and accuracy of any claims (e.g. waterproof and sweat-proof) and will then provide a list of their top-rated sunscreens. Products are also assessed by SPF and price and then graded on their ability to protect your skin (according to the brands’ claims). They even do an 80-minute dunk test in water to see how effective the product is after being immersed.
Checking Consumer Reports for sunscreen ratings is a great way to find the best sunscreen from the large and sometimes overwhelming array you find in the store. It's often interesting to see that the most expensive sunscreen products are often not the most effective. You may find cheaper sunscreens that will protect you better than their expensive brand counterparts, which is good if you're sticking to a budget.
Beyond Consumer Reports, you may also wish to read reviews online and check your social networks for reviews from friends. For example, if you’re a mom looking for sunscreen for your kids, you may be able to hunt down some good reviews from other moms to help clue you into good sunscreens that won’t cost an arm and a leg.