12-Jun-15 10:00 AM  CST

Sunscreens Fall Short in Effectiveness and SPF Ratings

Awareness of skin cancer associated with the effects the ultraviolet rays of the sun may seem like old news, but the products, sunscreens, used to protect us from UV rays is making new headlines. There are hundreds of sunscreens on the US market today. Each sunscreen comes with a SPF rating, a rating that specifies the amount of ultra violet rays the sunscreen is able to block from damaging the body’s skin.


The Skin Cancer Foundation states that sunscreens that carry a SPF, Sun Protection Factor, of 15 or greater generally do a great job of blocking the harmful rays of the sun. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will generally block 93% of the sun’s UV rays. A SPF of 30 will block 97% of UV rays and anything 50 or higher will block 98% of UV rays. However, most sunscreens, regardless of their UV rating will block UV rays no longer 2 hours, after which they must be reapplied. Additionally, a great number of sunscreens are not water resistant and will also need to be reapplied after coming out of the water.


A recent Consumer Reports found that nearly 1/3 of all sunscreens on the US market are not as effective as they claim. Some of the sunscreens Consumer Reports tested missed the mark by as much as 70%. The test, which Consumer Reports conducts each year showed 7 out of the 20 products tested in 2014 were not as effective as they had stated. This year Consumer Reports tested more products and found the results to be even more misguided.


Consumer Reports tested various sunscreens from the very costly to the least expensive. Of the 34 sunscreens tested less than half received a recommendation by Consumer Reports. A list of the recommended sunscreens can be found by logging onto, http://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/news/20150513/sunscreen-test-consumer-reports.


A few things to remember when choosing a sunscreen include,

  • Sunscreens with a SPF rating of at least 30 are recommended by most dermatologist
  • Sunscreens that are labeled as “broad spectrum” protect against UVA and UVB rays
    • Both may cause skin cancer, but UVA causes aging and wrinkles where UVB caused redness
  • Natural sunscreens may not deliver as they claim. Most of those tested by Consumer Reports missed the mark
  • Cost is not always an indication of superior quality and protection. Many of the sunscreens tested are available at a very reasonable price point
  • If a sunscreen does not say its waterproof it will need to be reapply after getting out of the water. Keep in mind most sunscreens need to be reapplied after 2 hours

Finding what works best for them is up to the consumer, but having accurate information concerning the sunscreens available on the US market helps the consumer make an effective and price appropriate choice.




Dohney, K., (2015), “Consumer Reports Recommends 15 of 34 Sunscreens”, WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/news/20150513/sunscreen-test-consumer-reports?page=2, retrieved, 5 June 2015


Skin Cancer Foundation, (2015), “Sunscreen Explained”, http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/sunscreen/sunscreens-explained, retrieved 5 June 2015

For additional information on this article, please contact:
Kelley Simmons
Source: Sandy Andrews, CPhT, BLS  

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