Study: Most People don’t understand Sunscreen Labels

Frequent sun exposure is unfortunately one of the most common contributing factors to wrinkles and photoaging. The sun also causes sunburn and increases your risk of skin cancer. For those reasons, most doctors and experts agree that using sunscreen is vitally important, and not just while you’re at the beach, but anytime you are out in the sun for more than a few minutes at a time.

Enter the wide array of sunscreen products. According to a new study, a good portion of people do not understand all of the information displayed on sunscreen labels, which can make it difficult to know which one is the best one to buy for your purposes and skin type.

The study was conducted with 114 participants at the Northwestern Medicine dermatology clinic in the summer of 2014. The participants were asked about how certain sunscreens were related to sunburns, aging and skin cancer based on the information on the labels. Here are some of the highlights of the findings:

  • 80 percent of those surveyed said they had purchased sunscreen in 2013.
  • 75 percent said prevention of sunburn was the number 1 reason they bought sunscreen, followed by prevention of skin cancer.
  • Only 43 percent of those surveyed could define what “sun protection factor,” or SPF, means.
  • The top 3 reasons respondents decided to buy one sunscreen over another was high SPF, sensitive skin formula, and sweat and water resistance.
  • About half of respondents bought sunscreen with the highest possible SPF.

The highest SPF won’t necessarily benefit you. SPF gives you information about sunburn prevention, not photoaging and skin damage. SPF rates the degree of solar intensity that would be needed to produce a sunburn. An SPF of 100 does not mean you are 100 percent protected; the only way to be 100 percent protected is to stay out of the sun.

Most participants knew that SPF refers to sunburn protection, but only 33 people knew SPF does not tell you anything about protection against UV-A rays. UV-A rays are associated with aging your skin, while UV-B rays are associated with sunburn. Both UV-A and UV-B can contribute to skin cancer. For that reason, it’s important to choose a “broad spectrum protection” sunscreen, which means it blocks out both types of radiation.

So what sunscreen should you choose? According to this study, effective sunscreen use includes the following aspects:

  • Labeled as offering “broad spectrum protection”
  • SPF of at least 30
  • Use about an ounce of sunscreen each time you apply (equivalent to the volume of a shot glass)
  • Reapply every two hours

Keeping your skin protected from the sun is not only an effective way to prevent skin cancer, it’s also a great way to keep your skin looking as youthful as possible.

For an advanced skincare consultation with our board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Joel Beck, please call Bay Area Aesthetic Surgery at 6505706066. Our plastic surgery center serves all of the Bay Area, San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo and the surrounding areas.


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