Is Your Sunscreen Actually Protecting Your Skin?

A new study claims that sunscreens may not be doing their job. We had a derm weigh in on whether you should be concerned


If you're diligently applying (and reapplying) sunscreen daily, it's safe to assume that you're getting adequate sun protection, right? That may not be the case, according to the somewhat alarming results of a recent Consumer Reports study. In a test of 65 sunscreens (all with a minimum of SPF 30), 43% failed to meet the SPF claimed on their label.

The magazine asked people to apply sunscreen to their backs and sit in water for the amount of time the product was labeled as water-resistant. They were then exposed to UV light and their skin later checked for redness. Nearly half of the sunscreens didn't live up to their labeling. Yikes! In addition, the study showed that physical sunscreens (those using minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as the active ingredients) didn't perform as well as chemical-based formulas. (Psst... Stop Believing These SPF and Sun Protection Myths.)

But are these results cause for concern? "Of course you always want to use the highest quality sunscreen possible. However, even sunscreens that did not meet their SPF claims did offer UV protection. If the product delivers an SPF 15, it's still blocking 93% of UV rays," explains dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital.

When it comes to practicing real life sun safety, Zeichner says it is better to pick the 'screen with the higher number: "Most people apply half as much sunscreen as they should," he explains. "When in doubt, choose a higher SPF as a safety net to ensure the highest level of protection possible and reapply more frequently." (Though it's worth noting that the increase in protection once you go above an SPF 50 becomes negligible).

And as far as choosing a sunscreen based solely on the winners of this study, "the advice is helpful, but the specific rankings need to be taken with a grain of salt," he says. "While the number one ranked sunscreen is an outstanding option, you can get quality protection from other products as well." Bottom line: Any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen. (We'd recommend one of these 20 Sun Products to Help Protect Your Skin.)

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