With vacations and other sun-filled opportunities around the corner, a recent American study, published June 17 in the JAMA Dermatology journal, paints a worrisome picture about consumers of sunscreens.
According to the study, a large number of consumers are confused when it comes to the different terminology on the bottles of sunscreen they buy, a confusion that could lead to sunburns or worse.
The study reveals that most consumers actually don't understand the different recommendations, UV protection indexes and terminology displayed on their sunscreens.
Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago interviewed 114 patients who visited the dermatology clinic during the summer of 2014. Nearly 80% of the participants in the study had purchased their sunscreen within the past year.
The results indicate that the three factors that influence purchase the most are the sun protection factor (SPF); a hypoallergenic formula; and water and sweat resistance.
Nearly 75% of participants said they used the sunscreen to prevent sunburn and 66% to avoid one day getting skin cancer.
Though most follow the basic rules of sun protection, many don't know what they are buying, according to the study.
In fact, less than 40% of the participants were able to explain how the sunscreen protects them, and 43% didn't understand the definition of SPF.
"They think that SPF means everything," says Dr Roopal Kundu, a dermatologist in charge of this study. "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."
According to the study, while SPF is one of the factors that matters the most, since it measures the sun's capacity for filtering UVB rays (which are largely responsible for sunburns), it doesn't provide any information on UVA rays.
And, according to Dr Kundu, most people don't take notice of the issues related to UVA rays, which can go through windows, increase the risk of skin cancer, and aren't filtered by the ozone.
"We need to do a better job of educating people about sun protection and make it easier for them to understand labels," she says, emphasising the need for 'broad spectrum protection.'
She recommends a system of labels with one to four stars to identify UVA protection and to rate UVB protection using the SPF index.