By Kara Reinhardt
With August already upon us, time is running short to spend a summer day outside catching some rays. Of course, those rays — UVA and UVB — are responsible for everything from sunburn to age spots to melanoma. So don’t forget to wear sunscreen whenever you venture outdoors for more than a few minutes. Expense is no excuse: Plenty of low-priced sunscreens — even store brands — protect your skin at least as well as pricey creams.
Choose a sunscreen with an SPF, or sun protection factor, of at least 15 — higher if you have fair skin, live at a high altitude or low latitude, or plan to be out in the middle of the day. But don’t pay more for an SPF higher than 50. There’s no evidence it will offer any extra protection, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In fact, a recently proposed FDA regulation would make “50+” the maximum value allowed on a label.
The most effective sunscreens offer broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. Beginning in summer 2012, a new FDA rule will allow only sunscreens that protect against both to bear the “broad spectrum” label. Until then, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests looking for ingredients with barely pronounceable names: avobenzone, cinoxate, ecamsule, menthyl anthranilate, octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide. (The AAD recently defended oxybenzone against critics who call it a health hazard.)
The new FDA requirements also forbid the word “waterproof” on sunscreen labels, asserting that water reduces the effectiveness of any sunscreen. Instead, qualified sunscreens will be labeled “water resistant” and indicate how long they continue to protect wet skin (either 40 or 80 minutes). Regardless, be sure to reapply after swimming.
Proper application is key to protecting your skin from the sun. Put on sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside and about every two hours afterward. The palm of your hand holds about an ounce of sunscreen, enough to adequately cover an adult in a bathing suit.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks for sunbathers on a budget.
- Banana Boat Ultra Defense SPF 50 (starting at $9 for 8 ounces) protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. The water-resistant lotion absorbs quickly and moisturizes with aloe vera and vitamins A and E. Even users with fair skin post favorable reviews. (Where to buy)
- No-Ad SPF 45 (starting at $8 for 16 ounces) delivers the most value for the money but doesn’t spend any on marketing, so you may not have heard of it. However, reviews say this water-resistant sunscreen works just as well as a name brand. Some SPF levels come in both a lotion and a spray for quicker application. (Where to buy)
- Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 55 (starting at $9 for 3 ounces) provides non-greasy protection against UVA and UVB radiation, making it ideal for faces. Users posting reviews appreciate that it doesn’t clog their pores or irritate their skin. The drawback is the cost — quite a bit more per ounce than the other options on our list. (Where to buy)
More from Cheapism: