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Which sunscreens work best?

Wednesday - 5/21/2014, 8:46am  ET

Sun, sunshine, sunbathe (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
Consumers Reports tested 20 sunscreens to find which ones lived up to their labels. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- With warmer weather and more time outside, many people may be grabbing the sunscreen, but a Consumer Reports study found that not all sunscreens live up their promises.

Consumer Reports tested 20 sunscreens and found just two products -- BullFrog WaterAmor Sport InstaCool SPF 50+ and Coppertone Sensitive Skin SPF 50 -- provided the SPF, or sun protection factor, promised on the label.

Consumer Reports recommends a total of seven sunscreens.

While not all of the sunscreens met the SPF claimed on their labels, it doesn't mean the sunscreens aren't protective, Consumer Reports notes. They are less protective.

The magazine tested the sunscreens and found that many came in 4 percent to 40 percent below their claims. For example, SPF 30 sunscreen that is 40 percent below its claim gives it a SPF 18.

"And we can't say why our test results differ from the manufacturers' claims, but they show that SPF isn't always carved in stone," Consumer Reports says.

Below is a list Consumer Reports' top sunscreens and their overall score out of 100.

Sprays

  • Bull Frog (95)
  • Target's up & up (90)
  • Well at Walgreens (87)

Lotions

  • Coppertone (81)
  • Walmart's Equate (80)

Ultra-high SPFs

  • Banana Boat (99)
  • Neutrogena (93)

The Food and Drug Administration regulates the industry, but allows manufacturers to test their products. Also, manufacturers don't have to report the results of their tests.

"If the FDA suspects a problem with a certain manufacturer, they can ask for their results," David Steinberg, president of Steinberg & Associates, a personal-care-products consulting company told Consumer Reports.

"But for the most part, it's a self-regulated industry."

Consumer Reports says consumers should remember the following things when buying sunscreen:

  • Kids don't need a special formula. The FDA doesn't make a distinction between kids' sunscreen and other kinds.

  • Apply large amounts often. Apply sunscreen 15 minutes to 30 minutes before time in the sun and then reapply every two hours.

  • "Natural" sunscreens are not safer. The sunscreens that claim to be "natural" or mineral-based are no better than chemical sunscreens.

  • Spray sunscreens don't provide the best coverage. It can be hard to judge the amount of sunscreen being sprayed, which can lead to less protection. Some sunscreens can be good options if used correctly.

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