July 1, 2015
Sunblock Purchasers Often Don’t Understand What
They Are Buying

Chicago—Many customers buying sunscreen at the drugstore may have little understanding of exactly what they are purchasing.

That’s according to a research letter, published online recently by JAMA Dermatology. The small study led by researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, notes that, in a survey, only 43% of respondents said they understand the definition of the sun protection factor (SPF) value.

In 2011, the FDA announced new regulations for sunscreen labels to emphasize broad spectrum protection against UV-A—associated with skin aging—and UV-B radiation—associated with sunburns—because both increase skin cancer risks.

Researchers surveyed 114 patients at a dermatology clinic to assess consumer knowledge of sunscreen labels and general sun protection behaviors.

Most of the patients, 81.6%, said they had purchased sunscreen in 2013. Preventing sunburns was an important factor for why 75.4% of them wore sunscreen, followed by preventing skin cancer, 65.8%. The results identified the three top factors influencing patients’ decisions to purchase a particular sunscreen as highest SPF value, sensitive skin formulation, and water and sweat resistance.

Fewer than half of the participants, however, were able to correctly identify terminology on a label that indicated how well the sunscreen protected against skin cancer, 37.7%, and even fewer understood the other benefits such as effectiveness in preventing photoaging, 7%, or sunburns, 8%. Just 43% said they understood the definition of SPF value.

Most participants, 81.6%, said they understood that staying out of the sun is superior to sunblock in skin cancer prevention, although respondents who indicated “highest SPF available” as an important factor in their sunscreen purchasing decision were less likely to answer the question correctly compared with those who did not consider SPF value to be an important factor. In addition, only 55.3% knew how much sunscreen is required to cover the entire body in order to achieve the advertised level of sun protection.

“Despite the recent changes in labeling mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this survey study suggests that the terminology on sunscreen labels may still be confusing to consumers,” the study concludes.

U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect