The summer months allow us to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine!
However, we also know that it is important to reduce the associated exposures to ultraviolent (UV) radiation from the sun in order to prevent sunburns and on the long term, reduce skin cancer risks. Sunscreen application onto exposed skin is one of the primary methods for controlling UV exposures, but selecting a sunscreen is somewhat problematic because there are literally thousands to choose from. Moreover, what sunscreen characteristics would you use to compare brands?
Fortunately, a team of dermatologists (Xu et al., 2016) has systematically reviewed the top ranked sunscreens on Amazon.com and devised a set of 6 helpful screening categories that are based on both positive and negative consumer reviews (in order of importance):
- Cosmetic elegance (ease of application, not greasy, moisturizing, etc.)
- Product performance (how well it protects against sunburn, even with sweating)
- Skin compatibility (e.g., does not affect sensitive skin)
- Product ingredients (both organic UV absorbers and titanium dioxide)
- Separate ratings (recommendations or reviews from other sources)
- Affordability (expressed as price per ounce)
An additional consideration was whether a sunscreen adhered to recommendations published by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), which specify that a sunscreen should  provide broad spectrum protection against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) radiations,  have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and  ensure water or sweat resistance for 40 to 80 minutes. The team reviewed the top 65 sunscreens out of the 6,500 listed on Amazon.com and surprisingly, 40% of the top tier products did not meet the AAD guidelines.
A sunscreen without water or sweat resistance is not an issue in situations where you’re not going to be swimming or sweating heavily. However, if your child is playing soccer on a hot, humid day, then you should definitely use a water-resistant sunscreen that will hold up for the entire game! Similarly, you don’t necessarily require a sunscreen with a moisturizer in it if you are encountering hot and humid conditions.
The affordability of sunscreens was not a major consideration in consumer reviews, but there can be major differences in the prices of sunscreens with similar consumer reviews/ratings. For cost-conscious consumers, Xu et al. (2016) list several low-cost, highly rated sunscreens on Amazon.com that provide up to 80 minutes of water resistance—their top five are:
- NO-AD Sunscreen Lotion SPF 45
- NO-AD Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
- Banana Boat Sunscreen Sport Family Size, SPF 50
- Australian Gold SPF 30 Spray Gel
- Banana Boat Sunscreen Spray SPF 30
Xu S, Kwa M, Agarwal A, Rademaker A, and Kundu RV. (2016). Sunscreen product performance and other determinants of consumer preferences. JAMA Dermatology. http://doi.org/10.1001/jamadermatol.2016.2344