May 20, 2014 | by Tami Dennis
Those shorts with that shirt? Which skirt with that blouse? Which sandals? These are standard summer-season questions many people ask themselves before leaving the house on a sunny day. A better question might be: Which sunscreen? Consumer Reports has found that labels might not be the best guide, with only two – repeat, two – of 20 products actually living up to their SPF, or sun protection factor, claims after a good dunking. Most of the rest were 4 to 40 percent below the touted number on the labels.
In fact, the July issue of the magazine recommended only seven of the products they tested, with both high-end and bargain price tags. WebMD provides a full list of the ratings.
Consumer Reports points out that no sunscreen blocks all rays, and that SPF refers only to UVB rays, not UVA rays. It even offers up a nifty graphic on the ratio between SPF and UVB protection.
As Vijay Trisal, medical director of community practices at City of Hope, has said: “People need to look for a sunscreen that contains at least one of the following: ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone or zinc oxide.” These ingredients provide broad-spectrum protection, reducing damage from both UVA and UVB rays.Trisal has helped create national and international guidelines for the treatment of melanoma. He also an expert in the study of genes that may help in early detection and treatment of melanoma, so he knows of what he speaks. (Be sure to check out his advice to "slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.")
Consumer Reports says the poor showing of many sunscreens should be kept in perspective. “That doesn’t mean the sunscreens aren’t protective,” Consumer Reports says. “Even an SPF 30 sunscreen that comes in, say, 40 percent below its claim gives you an SPF of 18."
But be sure to follow basic sunscreen guidelines:
Apply at least 15 minutes before going into the sun.
Apply generously. (Learn how much.)
And (this is especially directed at my favorite ginger): Reapply often.
Learn more about skin cancer treatment and research at City of Hope. (Reducing the risk of skin cancer – and premature aging – is what sunscreen is all about.)