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Best sunscreens of 2024, and why SPF numbers can be deceiving

Consumer Reports has just announced its best sunscreens for this year. The report explains why SPF numbers are no guarantee that you are buying a highly effective sun blocker.
Posted at 4:59 AM, Jun 03, 2024

In school, it's all about A-B-C and 1-2-3. But we're on the brink of summer's sizzle, so we're talking SPF and UVB.

Sun protection factor (SPF), along with Ultraviolet B (UVB), are words you'll see on the label of most sunscreens. Mason Collinsworth knows that using a good sunscreen is so important.

"I always have sunscreen on my face," she said during a break in a pickleball game. "I feel it's pretty important; I am pretty freckly."

SPF is one of the first things she checks when purchasing a new sunscreen for summer activities. But new testing shows that protection from a sunscreen doesn't always match the SPF you see on the label, and that a higher number doesn't always mean better.

Consumer Reports top ratings

Finding the right sunscreen comes down to the right combination of letters and numbers.

It can be overwhelming, so we'll start with this one: 96. That's the number of sunscreens recently tested by Consumer Reports.

The top-rated sunscreens this year include:

  • Coppertone Water Babies lotion, SPF 50, with a perfect score of 100.

Best of all, it runs about $9 a bottle — a lot less than many other brands — and you don't have to be a baby to use it.

  • The best spray on sunscreen was Eucerin Advanced Hydration spray SPF 50.
  • The best budget sunscreen was Equate Walmart Ultra lotion SPF 50.

CR subscribers can see all the ratings on the publication's website.

CR health and food editor Trisha Calvo said "we have found over the years that price is no guarantee of performance."

A person applying sunscreen on their arm.


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So why bother with ratings?

Consumer Reports finds you may not get the protection you think you're getting with some sunscreens that claim to have an SPF of 30 or 50.

"Our CR-tested average SPF's are often lower than what you might see on a label," Calvo explained.

For the best coverage, Consumer Reports recommends lotions over sprays, especially for children.

"Sprays do carry some risks of inhalation, particularly when they're used on windy days," Calvo said.

But Calvo says any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all.

Pickleball player Melody Reno says she never comes out to play without full coverage.

"I use a moisturizing sunscreen on my face, and regular sunscreen on my body," she said.

That way you don't burn, and you don't waste your money.


"Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").

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