Consumer Reports: Recommendations for sunscreens, bug repellents

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ByMatt Keller KGO logo
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Consumer Reports: Recommendations for sunscreens, bug repellents
Summer is officially here, but before you head outside there are two things you definitely don't want to forget -- bug spray and sunscreen.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Summer is officially here, but before you head outside there are two things you definitely don't want to forget -- bug spray and sunscreen.

You'll find plenty of options on the store shelves, but not all them will do a great job of keeping your protected.

The experts at nonprofit membership organization Consumer Reports recently put lots of insect repellents and sunscreens to the test.

Let's start with bug spray. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the number of insect-borne diseases is increasing, and the number of places they're spreading to is also on the rise. A new report this past spring showed that reported cases of tick and mosquito-borne diseases more than tripled between 2004 and 2016.

So, personal protection is super important, and insect repellents are a key component. The good news is there are a lot of insect repellent formats to choose from, such as sprays, lotions, and wipes, and they contain a range of active ingredients-that is, the ingredients that make the repellents work.

RELATED: Study reveals mosquito spray could delay motor skills in babies

But what separates the good products from the bad ones?

Consumer Reports tested sprays, lotions and wipes.Consumer Reports experts say what matters most isn't the brand name or whether it's a lotion, spray, or wipe, but rather the type and concentration of active ingredient in the repellent. Those are the common denominators in the products that worked best as well as in those that did poorly.

For example, among the 14 products that earned C.R.'S recommended status, there are only three active ingredients: deet, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE).

While C.R. found some insect repellent sprays using the active ingredients picaridin or OLE that performed well, among the lotions and wipes, only those containing Deet were found to be highly effective. Generally speaking, C.R. found deet, at levels of 15 to 30 percent, to afford the most reliable protection against mosquitoes and ticks.

RELATED: Consumer Reports reveals tips on avoiding ticks

Some of the top C.R. picks are: Total Home (CVS) Woodland Scent Insect Repellent, which is excellent at repelling mosquitoes. Based on our past testing, and on advice from independent experts, products that are effective against mosquitoes should be effective against other arthropods, including deer ticks. Good performance at resisting damage to materials. Another that was suggested was, Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent. This is Consumer Reports' best buy. It is excellent at repelling mosquitoes. Excellent performance at resisting damage to materials.

Consumer Reports tested more than 70 sunscreen lotions, sprays, sticks, and lip balms and the results show that you can't always rely on the sun protection factor (SPF). Many sunscreens don't meet the SPF level printed on the package. You should opt for one of the higher-rated products in C.R.'s ratings. If you can't find one of those, C.R. found that your best chance of getting a product with at least an SPF 30, the minimum SPF C.R.'s experts recommend, is by choosing a sunscreen (a chemical one, not mineral) labeled SPF 40 or higher.

VIDEO: Here are the best tips to stay safe during the hot summer months

Being cautious during the summer months can help prevent heat related illness.

Consumer Reports found lotions and sprays are equally effective. Where it gets tricky is in how they're applied. To cover your entire bathing-suit-clad body, you need about an ounce-or a shot-glass-full-of sunscreen. This is easy to measure with a lotion, but more complicated with a spray.

For sprays, the best way to ensure you're getting enough is to spray it liberally on your skin, then rub it in evenly with your hands. Avoid applying where it's windy, because you might lose some of your sunscreen to the air.

There has been some concern about the safety of sprays. The FDA has said it is exploring the risks of inhaling spray sunscreens. Until more is known, Consumer Reports' experts say to avoid using sprays on children, and don't spray directly on your face. Instead, spray sunscreen onto your hands, then apply it to your face. If you do use a spray on a child, spray the sunscreen into your hands and rub it onto the child's skin.

Click here for more on Consumer Reports ratings and recommended repellents.

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