The verdict is in: Consumer Reports ranked all the sunscreens out there, and some of their top picks are surprisingly affordable.
Consumer Reports just released their annual list of highest-rated sunscreens, based on testing and consumer feedback, and many of the winners are available at drugstores and grocery stores. Even better? A lot of them are less than 10 bucks. (Just in time, considering that two types of skin cancer are on the rise.)
The criteria for these lab tests? Exceptional protection against UVA rays (the ones that shine even on cloudy days and can reach down to the second layer of the skin) and UVB, aka the ones that pose the greatest risk of skin cancer. (Remember, you can also be exposed to UVA and UVB rays in completely unexpected places, like your office cubicle, or an airplane window.)
The main take away? The number of SPF—Sun Protection Factor—can be misleading, and it's not the only factor you should be considering when choosing a sunscreen. The FDA requires that the manufacturers test the SPF levels, but the agency itself doesn't always run tests on the products. You should still select a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher, but also make sure it's labeled broad-spectrum, which means it wards off both types of harmful rays. The top winners in the lotion, spray, and stick category fit the bill:
1. La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in Sunscreen Milk, SPF 60 ($36; laroche-posay.us)
2. Equate Sport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50 ($5; walmart.com)
3. Pure Sun Defense Disney Frozen Lotion, SPF 50 ($6; walmart.com) (Ironic that this sunscreen features a movie about an eternal winter and is still that effective)
1. Trader Joe's Nourish Spray, SPF 50+ ($10; amazon.com or in TJ's stores nationwide)
2. Banana Boat SunComfort Clear UltraMist Spray, SPF 50+ ($8; target.com)
3. Equate Sport Continuous Spray, SPF 30 ($9 for 2; walmart.com)
Pro tip on sprays: "Spray until the skin glistens, then rub the sunscreen in," says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. But keep in mind that some may escape into the air with even the smallest gust of wind, so spraying twice is probably your safest bet.
1. Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55 ($7 for 2, target.com)
2. Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55 ($6, walgreens.com)
3. Neutrogena Beach Defense water + Sun Protection Stick, SPF 50+ ($10, bedbathandbeyond.com)
Don't forget to apply your lotion or spray 15 minutes to a half hour before your outdoor yoga class, bike ride, or swim (check out our favorite workout sunscreens first). And shake it first to make sure all the important ingredients, like avobenzone, mix evenly for maximum effectiveness, Consumer Reports says. The perfect amount of sunscreen to rack up the most SPF? Picture filling a shot glass full of it if you're in a bathing suit, and lather that much on. And CR's number one rule: reapply, once every two hours at the very least, to keep you covered throughout your beach day.