LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Sunscreen is essential to prevent sunburns and skin cancer, but do consumers know how well the solution is really protecting them? Consumer Reports put several sunscreens to the test.
The SPF on sunscreens is supposed to indicate the amount of protection people get from the sun's UVB rays, which cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Consumer Reports tested 34 sunscreens to see if they deliver. Technicians applied sunscreen to testers' backs and had them soak in a tub for about 40 to 80 minutes, depending on the product's water-resistance claim. Then, the testers were exposed to UVB light.
The next day, the test area was examined for redness. The results made technicians concerned.
"Almost one-third of the sunscreens we tested had SPFs below what they promised. If you aren't getting the protection you think you are that could be a problem," said Trisha Calvo, deputy content editor for health and nutrition at Consumer Reports.
For example, Banana Boat Sport Spray claims to have an SPF of 50 plus, but it averages only an SPF of 24. The Yes to Cucumber's Natural sunscreen claims it has an SPF of 30, but only averaged about 14.
Consumers also want a sunscreen that is effective against UVA rays, which are linked to aging, skin damage and cancer.
Sunscreens that promise a "broad spectrum" of protection should provide both UVA and UVB protection. But in the Consumer Reports' lab tests, some of the sunscreens did not adequately guard against UVA rays.
"The worst is this Aloe Gator gel. It really fell down when it came to UVA protection," Calvo said.
Consumer Reports did find 15 sunscreens to recommend, which includes the NO-AD Sport SPF 50 lotion for $10 and the sport continuous spray with an SPF 30 from WalMart's Equate brand for $8. There is also the Equate Ultra Protection Lotion SPF 50 for $9.
Consumer Reports tests sunscreens for protection against ultraviolet rays