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Consumer Reports tests sun protection lotions and sprays

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Posted at 8:17 AM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-24 09:17:19-04

(CONSUMER REPORTS/WTVF) — We’ve all heard the warnings about skin cancer, but that doesn’t mean we always do what we're supposed to prevent it.

Dermatologists try to make it easy by saying the best sunscreen is the one you’ll actually use. But as Consumer Reports’ latest testing found, some sunscreens are much better at protecting your skin than others.

Consumer Reports sunscreen testing isn’t exactly a day at the beach: To check a sunscreen’s SPF — which stands for “sun protection factor” and is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects against sunburn — lotion and spray sunscreens are applied to the backs of test subjects, who then soak in a tub for 40 or 80 minutes, depending on the product’s water-resistance claim.

The area is then exposed to simulated sunlight. The next day, trained experts examine the area for redness.

CR’s top lotion is Equate Walmart Sport Lotion SPF 50, and the top spray is Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Spray SPF 30. Which one is better? It’s really a personal preference, but what really matters is how you apply the sunscreen.

“If you’re using a lotion, you’ll need to use about a teaspoon per body part or area that’s not covered up with clothing,” said Trisha Calvo with Consumer Reports.

Sprays can be trickier to apply than lotions because it can be harder to judge whether you're completely covering your skin when you use a spray.

“The proper way to use a spray is to hold the nozzle about 4 to 6 inches from your skin and spray until your skin glistens, then rub it in. Smoothing it into the skin increases its protection. Then repeat, just to be safe,” said Calvo.

Also, never spray your face. Instead spray the sunscreen into your hands and rub it onto your face. CR also recommends being careful using a spray on children, because they are more likely to inhale the mist.

All of CR’s top-rated sunscreens contain chemical active ingredients. But if you prefer a mineral or natural sunscreen, CR’s tests found California Kids Super Sensitive Tinted Lotion SPF 30+ provided acceptable protection

You'll want to apply sunscreen all over your body 30 minutes before you go outside, and you'll want to reapply it every two hours, or after swimming or excessive sweating.

And sunscreens do expire. Some have expiration dates printed on the bottles, others don't. But here's what you need to remember: they are supposed to remain at their original SPF strength for at least three years.

So, you can use leftover sunscreen from last year this summer, but if you're pulling old bottles from your cupboard and you don't know how old they are, it's probably best to just throw them away.