Sunshine can lift the spirit after a long winter, load up the body with vitamin D, and tint light skin a pleasing bronze. Of course, it can also burn skin a painful red, etch it with wrinkles, and damage it enough to breed cancer cells. Skin cancer represents nearly half of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society, and sunscreen is a key part of prevention. Experts recommend wearing it whenever you’re in the sun — not just at the beach — and using a full ounce (think of a shot glass or the palm of your hand) to cover an average adult in a bathing suit. That amounts to a lot of sunscreen, so it’s wise to consider cost when stocking up.
Here are four top picks from Cheapism.com that provide broad-spectrum protection from ultraviolet rays — that is, they guard against both UVA and UVB radiation.
Banana Boat Ultra Defense (starting at 97 cents per ounce) is a longtime consumer favorite with overwhelmingly positive reviews. This lotion comes in SPF 30 and 50 formulations and conditions skin with ingredients such as aloe vera. It has a pleasantly mild scent and doesn’t leave skin feeling slimy, users say. (Where to buy)
No-Ad SPF 45 (starting at 31 cents per ounce) may be unfamiliar to some consumers, because the brand eschews advertising, but No-Ad has been around for more than 50 years. This sunscreen comes in a 16-ounce bottle that costs less than most standard 8-ounce bottles of brand-name sunscreen. Yet reviewers maintain that it’s just as effective. (Where to buy)
Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish SPF 30 (starting at 80 cents per ounce) attracts some consumers because it doesn’t contain oxybenzone, a target of health concerns, although the Skin Cancer Foundation asserts there’s no scientific basis for avoiding this common and effective UV filter. Ocean Potion also features vitamin D3, as some users worry that by shielding their skin from sunlight they’re depriving themselves of vitamin D. (Where to buy)
Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50 (starting at 56 cents per ounce) is a house-brand product from Walmart that has bested pricier sunscreens in testing by consumer product experts. It measured up to its claimed SPF value and effectively safeguarded skin against UVA radiation. Consumers have found it a fine substitute for better-known brands. (Where to buy)
These are all water-resistant lotions formulated to protect wet skin as well as they would dry skin for up to 80 minutes. The Food and Drug Administration no longer lets manufacturers label sunscreens “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” terms that may have given some consumers the impression that they didn’t need to reapply after swimming or sweating. Even if you stay dry, experts recommend putting on sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before venturing out and going no more than two hours before reapplying.
Even the best sunscreen can’t block all UV rays. Experts differ on the minimum sun protection factor consumers should choose. Many consider SPF 15 sufficient, as it blocks 93 percent of harmful UV rays. SPF 30 intercepts about 97 percent. The FDA has no evidence that an SPF higher than 50 confers any additional benefit and has proposed limiting the maximum allowable SPF to “50+.”
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