A Northwestern Medicine study found that labels on sunscreen bottles confuse consumers more than guide them in picking the right bottle of sunscreen product. It turns out that shoppers are lost in the lingo and mixed up in the various numbers and “UV-A,”“UV-B” and “water-resistant” labels.
This research revealed that only 43 percent of the respondents surveyed understood what sun protection factor (SPF) stood for, while only seven percent were knowledgeable about finding the right product that offers protection against early skin aging.
In the aforementioned study, participants were presented with images of the front and back of a typical SPF 30 sunscreen product. Thirty eight percent of respondents were able to correctly identify terminology associated with skin cancer protection whereas 23 percent were able to tell which product to choose in as far as how well sunscreen protected against sunburn.
Dr. Roopal Kundu, lead researcher explains the implications of the study: “We need to do a better job of educating people about sun protection and make it easier for them to understand labels.” The study was published in JAMA Dermatology.
In an effort to assist consumers in shopping for the right sunscreen, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 released new regulations for sunscreen labels to highlight the importance of protection against both UV-A and UV-B rays. These products are known as “broad spectrum protection” sunscreen. UV-B (ultraviolet blue) rays are the main cause of sunburns. Premature aging and skin cancer on the other hand are the results of both UV-B and UV-A (ultraviolet A).
“We recommend you buy a sunscreen lotion labeled ‘broad spectrum protection’ — which helps to protect against both types of UV rays — with an SPF of 30 or higher that is also water resistant,” says Kundu, an associate professor in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of the UVB radiation. But, you need to reapply it every two hours, using about a shot glass full of lotion over your exposed skin, for the best results.”
Northwestern researchers surveyed 114 patients of their dermatology clinic from the summer of 2014. The said study yields information on consumers’ top three considerations for their sunscreen product purchases. These are highest SPF value, sensitive skin formulation and water and sweat resistance. Respondents were most concerned about preventing sunburn, comprising 75 percent of the survey population followed by preventing skin cancer, accounting for almost 66 percent. About 80 percent of the participants reported they purchased sunscreen the previous year.
Researchers observed that consumers were conscious about high SPF value, with close to half of the population reporting to opt for the product with the highest SPF available.
To this, researchers express their concern: “Just because you buy SPF 100 doesn’t mean you are 100 percent protected. Staying out of the sun is the only way to guarantee 100 percent protection,” Kundu clarifies. He further explains: “If an individual applies SPF 30 sunscreen to the skin 15 minutes before going outdoors, he can then stay outside 30 minutes longer without getting a sunburn.”
Researchers noted that finding creative ways to indicate UV-A/UV-B and SPF value (such as labeling UV-A with a star rating) and UV-B rating as an SPF value may help consumers make more informed choices.