A Study showed that only 43% of consumers are aware of what sun factor protection actually meant and only 7% know what to look for if they require sunscreen.

Is Your Sunscreen Protecting You?

Browsing aisles stocked with sun protection lotions and sunblock, the words SPF keep jumping out at an average shopper. But do people really know what to look for in a sunscreen product and how to pick the best one suited to their skin? A study from Northwestern University in Illinois weighs in.

According to the study, published in JAMA Dermatology, only 43% of consumers were aware of what SPF (sun factor protection) actually meant and a mere 7% had any idea about what to look for if they required a sunscreen that could protect against early skin aging.

“We need to do a better job of educating people about sun protection and to make it easier for them to understand labels,” said Dr. Kundu in a news release. He is the lead author of the study and an associate professor of dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg Medicine School.

The main purpose of SPF sunscreens is to protect the skin from UV-B (ultraviolet-B rays), which are the main cause of sunburn. But previous research has demonstrated that premature skin aging and skin cancers are caused by both UV-B and UV-A (ultraviolet A) rays.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration announced in 2001 the new regulations mandatory for sunscreen labels which emphasized “broad spectrum protection” sunscreen. The important thing about broad-spectrum sunscreen is that it can protect the skin from harming effects of both UV-A and UV-B rays.

Kundu and his colleagues observed 114 participants who visited the Northwestern dermatology clinic during the summer. 75% admitted that wearing sunscreen was so that they could avoid getting sunburn. Almost half said they bought sunscreen with the highest SPF value they could find.

Kundu explained that relying on the highest number of SPF to cover all bases of sun protection did not mean 100% protection.

“Staying out of the sun guarantees 100% protection. A lot of people were unsure about the definition of SPF. Only 43% understood that if you apply SPF 30 sunscreen to the skin 15 minutes before going outdoors, you can stay outside longer without getting sunburn.”

But when shown sunscreen labels, many had difficulty in deciphering what exactly the terminology meant. 38% were able to identify terms on the label associated with skin cancer protection while only 7% identified how well the sunscreen could protect against skin aging.

“We recommend you get a sunscreen which is labeled as ‘broad spectrum’ with a minimum SPF of 30 and is also water resistant. SPF 30 can block 97% of UVB rays but you need to reapply it every two hours all over exposed skin for best results.”