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A new report shows that many common sunscreens may not live up to the some of the promises on their bottles.

June 01, 2015

You slather on plenty of sunscreen, careful not to miss a spot, and head outdoors thinking you’re sunburn-proof. But that may not be the case. When Consumer Reports recently tested 34 sunscreens, a full one-third of them failed to offer the amount of protection they promised.

To assess the effectiveness of these products—which ranged from drugstore favorites to European brands—the watchdog publication applied them to the backs of subjects who then soaked in a tub of water for the amount of time each sunscreen claimed to be water-resistant. When the participants emerged, their skin was exposed to UV light. The result: Eleven of the sunscreens fell short of the claims touted on their labels, by anywhere from 16% to 70%. That said, three of them still offered quite a bit of sun protection (an SPF above 30), although less than the amount claimed on the label.

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Another finding: None of the “natural” or mineral sunscreens—those with active ingredients limited to titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, which physically block harmful UV rays from entering the skin without use of additional chemicals—provided enough water-resistance to make the list of 11 recommended products (which is available in full to Consumer Reports subscribers). Of the five tested, three did not meet the SPF claims on the label after exposure to water. According to Yahoo! Beauty, some of the creams with lower ratings included Vanicream Sunscreen SPF 50+; Goddess Garden Organics Sunny Body Natural 30; Yes to Cucumbers Natural SPF 30; EltaMD UV Aero SPF 45; and Aloe Gator SPF 40+ (either because they didn't meet their SPF claim, which offers protection against sunburn-causing UVB, or scored low on protection against UVA, which can age skin, after water exposure).

RELATED: How to Buy the Best Sunscreen for You

The editors noted that over the years, mineral sunscreens do not perform as well on tests as those with chemical active ingredients such as avobenzone. These six sunscreens earned high ratings from the study, the New York Post reveals:

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk, SPF 60 ($30, amazon.com)
Vichy Capital Soleil 50 Lightweight Foaming Lotion, SPF 50 ($28, amazon.com)
Coppertone Water Babies, SPF 50 ($15, amazon.com)
Banana Boat SunComfort Continuous Spray ($8, target.com)
(Tied) Equate Ultra Protection, SPF 50 (tied for fifth place) ($15, amazon.com)
(Tied) L’Oreal Quick Dry Sheer Finish 50+, (tied for 5th place) ($11, amazon.com)

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“It appears that Consumer Reports did not use [the] FDA’s official sunscreen test method but rather a different test not recognized by scientific experts,” Farah Ahmed, chair of the Personal Care Products Council's sunscreen task force, told the New York Post in response to the findings.

How to stay completely protected from the sun

Whichever sunscreen you use this summer, though, remember that it's only fully protective if your application is on point. And it shouldn’t be your only line of defense against the sun: A hat, shades, and tightly-woven clothing (or a rash guard in the water) offer even more protection from harmful UVA and UVB rays than a lotion or cream can alone.

RELATED: 7 Simple Steps for Head-to-Toe Sun Protection

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