PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When you choose a sunscreen, most people check the SPF, the amount of protection you get from the sun’s UVB rays, which cause sunburn and increases the risk of skin cancer.

Consumer Reports tested 34 sunscreens to see if they deliver.

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Technicians applied sunscreen to panelists’ backs and had them soak in a tub for 40 or 80 minutes, depending on the product’s water-resistance claim. Then, the area was exposed to UVB light.

The next day, the test area was examined for redness.

“That’s usually how SPF is tested. Is how long can you make it with the sunscreen on before your skin starts getting a little bit pink,” explains Children’s Hospital pediatric dermatologist Dr. Robin Gehris.

The tests showed a cause for concern.

“Almost a third of the sunscreens we tested had SPF’s below what they promised. If you aren’t getting the protection you think you are, that could be a problem,” says Consumer Reports’ Trisha Calvo.

“I think it’s a little bit alarming, because we put trust in labels,” says Dr. Gehris.

For example, Banana Boat Sport Spray claims an SPF of 50 plus, but only averaged an SPF 24. Cucumbers Natural claims an SPF 30 but averaged only 14.

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“That number on the bottle is a number that comes after the sunscreen has been applied in a lab to subjects in a very thick manner. And then those subjects are tested in a similar way,” says Dr. Gehris. “Patients don’t apply the products like they’re tested in a lab.”

You also want a broad spectrum sunscreen that’s effective against UVB rays and UVA rays — linked to skin damage and cancer. But in Consumer Reports’ lab tests, some of the sunscreens didn’t guard well against UVA rays.

“The worst is this Aloe Gator Gel. It really fell down when it came to UVA protection,” says Calvo.

Consumer Reports did find 15 sunscreens to recommend, and these were named Best Buys:

  • No-Ad Sport SPF 50 lotion for $10
  • Equate Sport Continuous Spray SPF 30 for $8 from Walmart
  • Equate Ultra Protection lotion SPF 50 for $9 from Walmart

Consumer Reports included several sunscreens that had titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as their active ingredients. Consumer Reports does not recommend any of these. Based on their testing they did not deliver enough broad spectrum protection.

But Dr. Gehris finds these products work quite well for her patients, especially if they have sensitive skin.

“You may just need to compensate for that by applying them more thickly, repeating a little bit more often,” says Dr. Gehris.

More information on Consumer Reports sunscreen tests is available here.

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