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Cheap Sunscreen Buying Guide
Warnings about damage from sun exposure, constant reappraisals of what constitutes "too much sun," and frightening rates of skin cancer have transformed sunscreen from a vacation-only sundry to an everyday must-have. The question is not whether to wear sunscreen but which one to buy.
Fortunately, one issue you don't have to worry about when shopping for an effective sunscreen is price, although "natural" sunscreens are more expensive on a per-ounce basis than the chemical formulations. There are plenty of cheap sunscreens that meet or exceed the recommendations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Many cheap sunscreens also perform as well as or better than the upmarket brands. What you need is a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that offers broad-spectrum coverage against UVA and UVB rays. Thanks to new FDA regulations, sunscreens that protect against both types of UV radiation will be labeled "broad spectrum" beginning in summer 2012. In the meantime, to make sure the cheap sunscreen you buy meets this standard, the AAD recommends checking the label for ingredients such as avobenzone, cinoxate, ecamsule, menthyl anthranilate, octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide. (Oxybenzone has come under fire from critics who call it a health risk, prompting the AAD to try to reassure consumers that the ingredient is safe and effective.)
No sunscreen will be effective if it's not applied properly. The FDA and the AAD calculate that an average adult male wearing a bathing suit needs one ounce (approximately 31 ml) to cover exposed skin. The palm of your hand holds about an ounce, so that's a handy way to judge how much to apply. Experts say to apply the first dose at least 15 minutes and no more than 30 minutes before going outside, which is just long enough for it to be absorbed by your skin. After that, reapply the sunscreen about every two hours -- regardless of SPF level -- and always after swimming, even if you're using a so-called water-resistant or waterproof product.
Despite all the warnings, no one is suggesting that you stay out of the sun entirely. Sun exposure, after all, has definite health benefits. It boosts vitamin D levels, which helps prevent heart disease, inflammatory immune disorders, diabetes, and some types of cancer, and can improve moods by stimulating endorphin production. Moreover, simply being outdoors encourages more exercise -- a healthy lifestyle choice in a society that struggles with obesity. So go have your fun, but be smart about it.
Sunscreen SPF.What is SPF? The initials stand for "sun protection factor," which relates to how strong the protection is, not how long the protective shield lasts. Cheap sunscreen with an SPF of 30, for example, provides three times the protection of sunscreen with SPF 10. Put differently, SPF 30 protects against sun exposure that's three times stronger.
The amount of sun exposure you can tolerate is affected by several factors, including your skin type, the time of day (early afternoon sun is stronger than early morning sun), where you are (locale and terrain), and the time of year. If you plan to be outdoors for extended periods, or in areas where the sun is particularly strong (at the shore, say, or in the mountains), and/or you are fair-skinned, choose a cheap sunscreen with a higher SPF. SPF 30 or higher is a good choice for people who work outdoors or spend lots of leisure time outside. For everyday use, even if you're just walking down the street or traveling in a car, a cheap sunscreen with SPF 15 or 20 should be sufficient. And don't think you can forget your sunscreen on cloudy days; clouds don't block harmful UV rays.
Most cheap sunscreens are available in a range of SPF levels. Banana Boat Ultra Defense Sunscreen (start at about $7 for 8 ounces) is available in SPF 15, 30, 50, 80, and 100, for example. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 55 (starting at $8 for 3 ounces) also comes in SPF 30, 45, 70, 85, and even 110 (starting at $13 for 3 ounces). You'll also have your pick of SPF levels with No-Ad Sunblock (starting at $8 for 16 ounces of SPF 45), another lesser-known but inexpensive sunscreen, which offers SPF 8, 15, 30, 45, and Sport formulas. Aveeno Continuous Protection SPF 100 (starting at $11 for 3 ounces) is another relatively cheap sunscreen with triple-digit SPF. Note that the cost of cheap sunscreen may vary with SPF levels: Banana Boat Ultra Defense SPF 80, for example, costs $10 for 3 ounces compared with $9 for 8 ounces of Banana Boat Block Sport SPF 30.
If you prefer a natural, eco-friendly sunscreen, you've got a couple of options. Badger Sunscreen SPF 30 (starting at $12 for 2.9 ounces) and Burt's Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen SPF 30 (starting at $12 for 3.5 ounces) earn points from the Environmental Working Group for being non-toxic. Badger uses zinc oxide as its mineral protection, rather than the less effective titanium dioxide found in Burt's Bees, and provides better UVA protection.
Is it worth spending more money for a higher SPF? Most experts say the difference in coverage is minimal; what matters more is how much you apply. In other words, a cheap sunscreen with SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and a product with SPF 100 blocks 99% of UVB rays. But if you apply less than the recommended amounts, protection is greatly reduced. The FDA is considering making "50+" the maximum SPF allowed on sunscreen labels because there is no evidence that SPF values higher than 50 provide any additional protection.
Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant Sunscreen.Consumers sometimes use the terms "waterproof" and "water resistant" interchangeably, but they aren't equivalent. It's important to know the difference if your plans include water sports or activities that will leave you perspiring heavily. According to the Melanoma Foundation, water-resistant sunscreens maintain their stated SPF level of protection for at least 40 minutes of exposure to water and waterproof sunscreens hold their SPF levels for 80 minutes or more. Beginning in summer 2012, new FDA requirements will ban words such as "waterproof" and "sweatproof" on the grounds that they overstate sunscreens' effectiveness. Instead, sunscreens that remain effective while the wearer is swimming or sweating will be labeled "water resistant" and indicate how long the water resistance lasts.
Moisturizing Sunscreen.Most cheap sunscreens, including Banana Boat and No-Ad Sunblock, contain moisturizers such as aloe, cocoa butter, and/or vitamins A and E. A few, such as Jergens Natural Glow Face Daily Moisturizer SPF 20 (starting at $4 for 2.5 ounces), have the necessary SPF, the moisturizers, and, as an added bonus, a bit of a tanning formulation.
Spray Sunscreen.Some cheap sunscreens, including Banana Boat Ultra Defense SPF 50, are available as a spray, which is easier to apply than lotions, creams, or gels. Spraying is faster than slathering, avoids messy hands, and covers the territory, so to speak, more evenly. Sprays are also convenient for on-the-go athletes and wriggling kids. Just remember to aim carefully -- no sense in spraying the counters, furniture, walls, or the great outdoors. A key selling point for the KINeSYS line of sunscreens is its spray application, but it comes at a price -- about $7 an ounce.
Best Cheap Sunscreen
Banana Boat Ultra Defense Sunscreen SPF 50 (8 oz.)
Banana Boat Ultra Defense Sunblock comes in a range of SPF levels (from 15 to 100) that provide broad-spectrum protection from UVA and UVB rays and include moisturizers. Users report this cheap sunscreen goes on easily and doesn't feel greasy. Banana Boat is widely available and suitable for a variety of skin types under a variety of conditions.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
No-Ad Sunblock SPF 45 (16 oz.)
No-Ad Sunblock may be a bit hard to find -- the company doesn't advertise -- but positive word-of-mouth and consumer reviews help to raise awareness. Users like the ease of application, non-sticky and non-greasy feel, effective protection, and cheap price. No-Ad offers broad-spectrum protection and comes in of SPF levels from 8 to 85.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Good Cheap Sunscreen
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 55 (3 oz.)
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock comes in a relatively high SPF levels (30 to 110) and is sometimes recommended by dermatologists. It's a lightweight, non-greasy, non-shiny product that users say doesn't clog pores or aggravate pre-existing skin conditions, but it costs more per ounce than others on our list.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Burt's Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen SPF 30 (3.5 oz.)
Burt's Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen SPF 30 might be an eco-friendly product, but it's not one that wins over many consumers. The broad-spectrum protection fails to prevent sunburns, according to users, and may cause skin to peel. They also say it's difficult to get out of the tube and rub in, leaves behind a flaky white film that's hard to wash off, and stains clothing.Read more »
Jergens Natural Glow Face Daily Moisturizer SPF 20 Review
Burt's Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen SPF 30 (3.5 oz.) Review
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 55 (3 oz.) Review
Banana Boat Ultra Defense Sunscreen SPF 50 (8 oz.) Review
No-Ad Sunblock SPF 45 (16 oz.) Review
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