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Consumer Reports reveals top-rated sunscreens of 2018

As the weather finally warms up, Consumer Reports has released its annual report on the best sunscreens to protect you and your family this summer.

The report rated 73 lotions, sprays, and sticks for effectiveness and accuracy of SPF labeling. SPF, or sun protection factor, is the measure of how well a sunscreen protects against ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, which is the main cause of sunburn and a contributor to skin cancer.

The report included sunscreens labeled SPF 30 or higher and, unless otherwise noted, had claims of water resistance for 80 minutes.

"We do our own scientific, laboratory-based testing to identify differences in performance and give consumers a comparative evaluation," Trisha Calvo, deputy editor of health and food at Consumer Reports, told CBS News. "Every sunscreen is tested at the lab in the same way — and we use sunscreens we buy off the shelves, the way a consumer would."

The top 4 sunscreens, according to Consumer Reports:

  1. La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk
  2. Equate (Walmart) Sport Lotion SPF 50
  3. BullFrog Land Sport Quik Gel SPF 50
  4. Coppertone WaterBabies SPF 50 Lotion

The report found that of the 73 products tested, 24 were found to have less than half their labeled SPF number. That doesn't mean that the sunscreens don't work at all, but consumers may not be getting the degree of protection they'd think.

The report notes that certain claims on sunscreen bottles are not regulated by the FDA, including "sport," "dermatologist recommended," and "natural" or "mineral." 

The authors say that over the years of Consumer Reports testing, sunscreens labeled "natural" or "mineral" that contain only titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or both as active ingredients, have tended to perform worse than those that have chemical active ingredients, such as avobenzone. No mineral sunscreens made Consumer Reports' list of recommendations this year.

When applying sunscreen, experts say to put it on 15 minutes before you go out so that it's absorbed by your skin before the UV rays hit you. Use about an ounce (it should sill your entire palm) to cover your entire body, being careful not to forget your ears, upper back, the back of your hands, and the top of your feet. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

One in five people will develop skin cancer by age 70. The most dangerous form, melanoma, accounts for just one percent of skin cancer cases but the majority of deaths. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 91,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma this year.

Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, and a paid consultant for Coppertone, told "CBS This Morning" that while anyone can get skin cancer, certain factors can increase your risk.

"We see skin cancer and melanoma in all skin types, but people with your coloring, fair skin, light eyes, who've spent a lot of time in the sun, are at an increased risk for sure," she said.

Tanning beds have been found to increase the risk for melanoma by 75 percent.

Hale also emphasized the importance of lathering up children with sunscreen every day.

"It's super important," she said. "In fact, five or more sunburns at any time in our life doubles our risk for melanoma, so we really want to treat children young and get them the message that [sunscreen is] just like wearing a helmet when they ride their bikes or when they ski."

And if you're unsure whether to use the half-used bottle at the bottom of last summer's tote bag, sunscreen is formulated to remain effective for three years, according to FDA regulations. After that, it's time to toss it.

Visit Consumer Reports' website to see the full report and rankings.

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    Ashley Welch covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com