In May 2017, CVS Pharmacy announced it would no longer sell sunscreen products with an SPF of less than 15. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends using a minimum of SPF 15 when outdoors. However, there are still several sunscreens on the market with lower SPF ratings.
A quick look at SPF 10 sunscreens on Amazon.com show that many have “tanning” in their descriptions. According to the FDA: “There is no such thing as a safe tan… [T]he tan color change in your skin is a sign of damage.” Selling only sunscreens that reduce UV exposure is a good thing.
In an effort to promote healthy skin, CVS also announced it is working with the American Cancer Society and Johnson & Johnson to raise awareness about skin health; has launched the LONGLIVESKIN promotion; and is providing information on its website to help consumers understand SPF and how to protect themselves when out in the sun. CVS is also introducing new products that are dermatologist-approved and offering natural and organic options.
This could certainly prove to be a big step in preventing skin cancer. Although people have different sunscreen needs depending on where they live, how much time they spend outdoors and their skin tone, just about every expert agrees that SPF 15 is the absolute minimum to use when outdoors.
One problem in all of this: the labels on your sunscreen might be misleading. Consumer Reports released its annual sunscreen ratings in May 2017, ranking more than 60 of the leading products and determining if each lives up to its SPF claims. Many do not. According to Consumer Reports, “If you put too much faith in the SPF, you could be putting your skin at risk.”
Consumer Reports has put out this list for the past several years and every year there are many sunscreens that don’t live up to the SPF label. This year, 23 out of more than 60 tested at less than half of their labeled SPF. One popular sunscreen, Coppertone Sport High Performance Spray SPF 30, tested at less than 15 SPF.
The editors at Consumer Reports recommend using an SPF of at least 40 and one that contains chemical active ingredients rather than zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (or at least in addition to these ingredients). In their years of testing, they have found these types of sunscreens to have at least an SPF of 30.
While CVS no longer selling sunscreens with an SPF of less than 15 is a good first step, it doesn’t mean that everything left on store shelves will deliver the protection you need. The FDA does recommend a minimum of SPF 15, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a minimum of 30 and Consumer Reports indicates that an SPF of 40 will most likely give you the desired protection.
And keep in mind that sunscreen is just one part of sun protection. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, as well as limiting your sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., are all important.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.