By: Forest Dramis
Before we get into the actual review of the sunscreens in our test, it's important to understand some of the basics of what sunscreen labeling means. When shopping for sunscreen most people only consider the SPF (Sun Protection Factor). SPF is measured by the FDA as a comparison of how much UV exposure it takes to cause a sunburn versus when someone does not use a sunscreen. The higher the SPF number, the more protection against burning. However, because the SPF indicates only how much Ultraviolet B is being blocked, the spectrum of UV that causes burning, it doesn't give an indication of protection from Ultraviolet A, the spectrum of UV that causes melanoma. Under FDA regulations, any sunscreen labeled "Broad Spectrum" must block UV-A and UV-B at the same level. Nowadays almost every sunscreen on the market over SPF 15 is Broad Spectrum, but it's best to make sure. All sunscreen designations and claims assume you will reapply after 2 hours. Is your sunscreen "waterproof" or "sweatproof"? The answer is no. The FDA prohibits either terminology and only allows "Water Resistant" to be used if the SPF efficacy isn't drastically reduced during 40-80 minutes of water activity.
So what exactly does the SPF number mean? SPF 50 blocks more UV than SPF 30, but how much more, and why does it matter? It matters because higher SPF sunscreen can be considerably more expensive than its lesser SPF companions. During our research we found that some companies' SPF 50 sunscreen cost as much as double the same sunscreen in SPF 30. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UV rays. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UV rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UV rays. Is that 1% worth double the cost? Add to that consideration that the amount of sunscreen you apply is critical to your protection and I think SPF 30 is the best way to go. It should also be noted that the FDA considers SPFs over 50 to be "no more effective than SPF 50."
We tested 5 sunscreens: Coppertone Sport SPF 30, Beyond Coastal Active SPF 34, Trilipiderm Broad Spectrum SPF 30, Banana Boat Sport SPF 30, and Neutrogena Ultra Dry Touch SPF 30. (All of these sunscreens are Broad Spectrum.) Since the FDA regulates sunscreen, we can confidently assume all these sunscreens block approximately 97% of UV-A and UV-B. All these sunscreens will protect you on your ride or ski. That leaves a few metrics for us to use when deciding which to buy. Feel: How does it feel on your skin? Is it slimy, sticky, greasy or dry? Smell: Does it smell good, bad or innocuous? Price: Do you want to pay $15 for your sunscreen or $5? Here's what we found...
Most favorite: Beyond Coastal Active SPF 34 This was our favorite sunscreen in the test. After application my skin felt well coated but never felt sticky, slimy or wet. The smell was innocuous and the price was great.
Our second favorite was Coppertone Sport. Great feel on the skin, easy to apply and a smell that reminds us of the beach without being too obtrusive. Even though Coppertone came in 2nd during our test, because of its much lower price -- $1.34/oz versus $3.94/oz for Beyond Coastal, we feel that this is the best choice if you're on a budget.
Honorable mention: Neutrogena Ultra Dry I'm giving the Neutrogena honorable mention because despite its steep price it has some desirable properties that shouldn't be ignored. While it misses the mark on the cost metric it does have one very important quality that active users shouldn't ignore: it didn't burn my eyes when sweating from under my helmet. All sunscreen will run when you're sweating hard, but this one seemed to run the least and also burned the least.
Least favorite: Trilipiderm Broad Spectrum SPF 30 We found this sunscreen to be quite slippery and slimy when applied. Our hope was that after a couple minutes it would "soak in" and be less noticeable, but no such luck. I'm sure it was moisturizing my skin and it was certainly giving me a glow....or shine...but the feel of this sunscreen had me trying to wipe it off. Not really what you want to be doing with your skin protection.
Bottom Line: Wear sunscreen. Every time out. Most of us live at altitude and play at an even higher altitude. There's every reason in the world to use it, and no reason not to use it. Based on our tests I've switched my regimen to use Beyond Coastal Active SPF 34. If it's going to be especially hot, I'll add the Neutrogena Ultra Dry to my face because of its sweat-related properties.