Consumer Reports on sunscreens – why you shouldn’t believe it!

Consumer Reports magazine gives mineral based sunscreens very low ratings which is disturbing because that's what I've been using for several years. I'm hoping their testing methods are flawed! Should those of us who have been using zinc oxide switch to a chemical based formula? Thanks so much.

Ok – so I had to go back and reread this because I read it months ago, and couldn’t remember exactly what I thought the problem was. LOL. My problem with this Consumer Report (CR) report is that they don’t separate sunscreens meant for daily use (no water, not a lot of sweating) from sunscreens meant for the beach or sports (need highly water and sweat resistent). This piece of writing that presents itself as unbiased, but the testing process they used is really weird in my opinion.

How They Tested for UVB (the SPF rating).

Remember the SPF ONLY refers to UVB, not UVA. And… we need coverage for both to have a good sunscreen!

They tested by applying the standard amount to a person’s back. This spot is approximately the size of a quarter.  Then the person soaked in a tub of water. BUT FOR HOW LONG? This is key. Soaking in a bathtub for 10 min is really different from soaking for 30 minutes, for example.  And salt water and swimming are really different from soaking in a bath tub.

Then they exposed each spot to a different intensity of UVB light and evaluated 24 hours later for signs of sunburn.  Prone to observer error, but still an acceptable way to assess.

Also, even weirder, is that many of the products Consumer Report tested are not claiming to be water resistent, so why would they evaluate seemingly all products by soaking in bathtub?? The sunscreens not meant to be water resistent don’t come out as well.

How They Tested for UVA. There is NO SPF rating for this. You have to read labels and zinc oxide is the clear winner on this one.

For the UVA rating, they smeared the sunscreen product on a plastic plate and then measured how much UVA light got through to the other side. This doesn’t seem like a great method to me. Also, you can’t assess water resistence this way at all.

BOTTOM LINE: In my opinion, this CR piece evaluating sunscreens is virtually useless.

For daily use: Stick with sunscreens that are 8-20% zinc depending on how much you are outside.

For beach/sweating: Look for water resistence – 80 min is the max and reapply often. Hats and covering up are just as important.

Hope this helps,  Dr. I



Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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