What is The Best Sunscreen – The Study Is In

I’m constantly wondering what the best sunscreen is, so imagine my joy when the most extensive sunscreen study done in a while was released a few days ago.

My son Isaiah has severe sun issues. He has a condition called cholinergic urticaria (basically serious hives and swelling from BTPM_Isaiah_swollen_face1heat) and, as if regular eczema wasn’t enough, he has heat induced eczema.

So after being in the sun for a few hours, he looks like he went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.

While sunblock doesn’t really help, it’s much better than nothing.

It certainly doesn’t help shut up rude people from saying “Wow he sure got some sun!” while I stand in line at the pharmacist holding my miserable son.

Yeah jerk. I let my son play outside all day with no hat and no sunblock. As if.

Trust me. I’ve made an art out of finding the perfect sunblock. The perfect rash guard. The perfect sun hat. The perfect combination of clothing and hats, sunblock and sunblock stick.

Reapply. Reapply. Reapply.

I could teach you how to care for your child in the sun, buddy.

And yet every year we go through the same struggles. We try to anticipate what will happen. How it will happen. How we can avoid it.

Since our first sun exposure is usually on summer vacation, we visit the allergist first. Get a bottle of steroids, steroid cream and lots of well-meaning advice. We believe we are prepared. But how can you prepare for your son’s face swelling up like a balloon and his body covered in a nasty rash?

It gets harder as he gets older because he’s more aware of what it feels like and what’s happening. And therefore, he’s more likely to be anxious about what the next day in the sun will hold.

Notice the full-length rashguard. The full coverage hat. Sunglasses AND full-length leggings. To swim in.
Notice the full-length rash-guard. The full coverage hat. Sunglasses AND full-length leggings. To swim in.

Not a lot is known about the types of heat and sun allergies he has, and even less is known about how to treat it. You can’t test on kids.

Instead, I advocate as best I can and study and read and use him as my guinea pig as I try and retry sunscreens.

Fortunately for him, the swelling and eczema actually dissipate as he gets used to the heat.

The hives not so much.

In honor of my yearly research study, I’d like to share the findings of Consumer Report’s best Sunscreens in 2016. The Cancer Health Center has also piped in on this list.

What’s amazing is that 4 out of 10 sunscreens (40%!) did not meet the SPF they claimed to have!!

I highly recommend sharing this page and this report because TWO PRODUCTS CLAIMING TO HAVE AN SPF OF 50 ACTUALLY HAD AN SPF OF 8. Yes. I am yelling. An SPF of 8!  Here you are expecting that you’re protecting your child from the sun by using SPF50, and your poor child is being blasted by skin-sizzling sun protected by a mere 8 SPF.

This year, their report is more comprehensive because it includes all products. Lotions, sprays, sticks, and facial sunscreens, as well as both adult and children’s formulas. The actual full report that explains the SPF and broad-spectrum will be published in the July issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

For now, we know that 17 sunscreens earned a spot on the organization’s “recommended” list.

The testing uses volunteers who soak in water after the sunscreens are applied, and then have their skin exposed to UV light.

So what is the best sunscreen for 2016?

Believe it or not only two products earned a perfect score:

If you can’t get either of the top two best sunscreens for 2016, here are 15 others that make the recommended list:

Some notes on the testing:

Believe it our not, mineral sunscreens with ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc were less likely to meet their SPF claims than chemical sunscreens. This was brutal for me to read because my gut has always told me to turn away from chemical sunscreens. However, sometimes I have to make the decision to protect my child, regardless of my feelings about avoiding chemicals. The fact is that SPF protection is what blocks harmful UV rays from burning our kids.

Here he is at Disney. Poor kid. White icky sunblock covering his puffy face, ginormous hat and ever present sunglasses.
Here he is at Disney. Poor kid. White icky sunblock covering his puffy face, ginormous hat and ever present sunglasses.

You should know that 2 products fell far short of their claimed SPF. These are the two that tested at a SPF of 8 instead of the claimed 50 SPF:

  • Banana Boat Kids Tear-Free, Sting-Free Lotion SPF 50
  • CVS Kids Sun Lotion SPF 50

Obviously, the disparity in the SPF a sunblock claims to have and the amount it actually protects us from is is very troubling for parents. How can we trust that the sunblock we have is actually doing what it claims?

That’s why I do so much research and why I only buy sunscreens from this list. I can’t worry about the avobenzone and the oxybenzone. I have to worry about my son’s health, his skin and his potential for skin cancer.

I wish I could be as consistent about the no-chemicals rule with sunscreen choices as I am about what I put in his body, but the fact is I must advocate for my son’s health.

I have to thank Consumer Report’s for doing this work so that as parent’s, we’re able to make the most informed sunscreen choices for our children.

This is cholinergic urticaria. The hives and swelling can get so bad that it completely metamorphoses his skin.















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9 thoughts on “What is The Best Sunscreen – The Study Is In

  1. Great article. My son also has heat induced eczema…really tough. My son would scratch all night…he would spend most summer exhausted. Like u say you plan plan plan then revise revise revise!

    1. I sure am hoping they will. Although we went to the dermatologist today and he said that, although it is rare, he believes Isaiah is actually allergic to the sun. 😦

  2. Wow. I guess I’ve never taken my son to the doctor at the right time. No one has ever called it heat induced eczema. For one day my son is okay. But when it comes to several days in a row of going to the pool or being on a sunny vacation then it’s always the return trip that he’s rashy with a miserable week following. All sunscreens have made it worse where all of his skin looks like the side of your son’s neck and we spend the following week doing oatmeal baths and special lotions along with benedryl to calm his skin down. I’ve stopped using sunscreen altogether which I know isn’t the best solution either because even darker skin sunburns and we all need spf. It’s even harder once they get older and don’t want to wear a hat or in my son’s case look “blue” from the sun block. I’m really considering making some this year. I guess I’d rather try that at that expense and know what’s really going in it versus spending so much on product and it not working. I’m kind of at a loss. That’s for the post!

  3. Great info Jen! I’m going to have to check out the whole list and return the stuff I just bought. It isn’t on the bad list but it isn’t on the good list either.

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