This article is the archived version of a report that appeared in July 2009 Consumer Reports magazine.
Short of avoiding the sun altogether (what fun is that?), careful and consistent use of sunscreen remains a key way to protect your skin against the sun's rays. But choose carefully: Our latest tests showed variation in how well 10 products guard against ultraviolet radiation.
At an outside lab, we assessed protection against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation. (Many products now claim protection against both, though only UVB rays are accounted for in the sun-protection factor.) We also checked how well sunscreens lasted on a panel of volunteers who soaked in a tub of water for at least 40 minutes.
Most sunscreens protected well, and we found three CR Best Buys. But one product, Banana Boat Kids Tear Free SPF 50, was just fair in UVA protection. It also took an especially long time to rub in and left a sticky, white residue.
When it came to UVB protection, all products met or exceeded their SPF claim except one—Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 70, the priciest sunscreen we tested. Because it came within 10 percent of its claim and had such a high SPF to begin with, it's still OK to use.
All sunscreens except Aveeno's Continuous Protection Spray SPF 45 lost some UVB protection after water immersion, but none lost more than 10 percent.
Our best performers included both lotions and sprays. But be aware that applying sprays properly can be tricky, especially if it's windy. The target hit by Target Sport Continuous Spray SPF 30 (now called Up & Up) seemed especially wide, so some spray could hit the air instead of your skin.