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Sunscreens: Here's how much you need to pay for good protection

Dozens of brands compete for your dollars
Posted at 6:01 AM, May 13, 2022

The sun is getting higher and hotter every day, which means now is the time to stock up on sunscreen. But with all the options out there, how much do you need to spend for good protection for you and your family?

A new investigation finds that higher prices don't necessarily mean better quality. Pamela Thompson loves catching some sun during her lunch break but never knows which brand to buy.

"I agree that it is effective and needs to be put on," she said.

Dejana Tenhunfeld tries to use the strongest sunscreen she can find.

"At the beach, yeah, I would use maybe 45 Coppertone," she said.

What to look for

So how do you know which sunscreen is best for your skin and for your budget?

Dermatologist Melissa Piliang says before you buy anything, check the label for three things:

  • The sunscreen should be at least SPF 30.
  • Look for "broad spectrum," which means it protects against UVA and UVB rays.
  • Make sure it's water-resistant or water-proof.

"That means it's stickier to your skin and will stay on longer if you get wet," she explained. "In the pool, in the ocean. Or if you're sweaty."

What about buying a spray versus a lotion?

"Whichever one you will put on your skin is the one to get," Piliang said.

How much you need to pay

The biggest issue for many families these days is the cost. Sunscreens can range from $5 per tube all the way to $30 or $40.

Do you really have to pay that much? Trisha Calvo is with Consumer Reports, which tested dozens of sun protection products. She says the price is not an indicator of how well a product will perform.

"In our tests over the years we haven't found any connection really between price and protection," Calvo said.

For example, Walmart's Equate Ultra Sunscreen SPF 50 is one of the highest performing lotions in CR's tests but is one of the cheapest at around $5.

And what about all the natural products you see these days? Calvo says while they're better for the environment, they're not always better when it comes to protecting your skin.

"Any sunscreen is better than none," she said, "but in our tests, we've never found a mineral-based sunscreen that performs well enough to make the top of our ratings. Most of them come into the middle or to the bottom when it comes to UVA or UVB protection."

Of course, the key is just to use sunscreen, and that way you stay safe and you don't waste your money.


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