(Consumer Reports) — We’ve all heard the warnings about skin cancer, but that doesn’t mean we always follow our doctor’s advice. So dermatologists try to make it easy by saying that the best sunscreen is the one you’ll actually use. But as Consumer Reports’ new tests reveal, some sunscreens are much better at protecting your skin than others.
Consumer Reports’ sunscreen testing isn’t exactly a day at the beach. To check a sunscreen’s SPF—which stands for “sun protection factor” and is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects against sunburn—lotion and spray sunscreens are applied to the backs of test subjects, who then soak in a tub for 40 or 80 minutes, depending on the product’s water-resistance claim. The area is then exposed to simulated sunlight. The next day, trained experts examine it for redness.
CR’s top lotion is Equate Walmart Sport Lotion SPF 50, and the top spray is Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Spray SPF 30.
Which is better, a lotion or a spray? It’s really a personal preference, but what really matters is how you apply the sunscreen.
If you’re using a lotion, you’ll need to use about a teaspoon per body part or area that’s not covered up with clothing.
Sprays can be trickier to apply than lotions because it can be harder to judge whether you’re completely covering your skin.
The proper way to use a spray is to hold the nozzle about 4 to 6 inches from your skin and spray until your skin glistens, then rub it in. Smoothing it into the skin increases its protection. Then repeat, just to be safe.
Also, never spray your face. Instead, spray the sunscreen into your hands and rub it onto your face. CR also recommends being careful using a spray on children, because they are more likely to inhale the mist.
All of CR’s top-rated sunscreens contain chemical active ingredients. But if you prefer a mineral or natural sunscreen, CR’s tests found that California Kids Super Sensitive Tinted Lotion SPF 30+ provides acceptable protection.
To see CR’s full sunscreen ratings, head over to CR.org.