June 18, 2015
2 min read

Consumers confused, have limited knowledge of new sunscreen labels

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Consumers appear to have confusion and limited knowledge and comprehension over recent sunscreen labeling changes by the FDA, according to recently published study results.

The FDA implemented new sunscreen label regulations in 2011 to emphasize broad-spectrum protection against ultraviolet radiation, including both UVA and UVB.

Researchers measured consumer comprehension of sunscreen labels and knowledge of general sun protective factors (SPF). The study included 114 participants who took part in an anonymous survey when attending the Northwestern University dermatology clinic from June 1 through Aug. 31, 2014. Questions focusing on demographics, Fitzpatrick skin type, sunscreen purchasing behaviors and the understanding of commonly used language on sunscreen labels.

Ninety-three survey participants (81.6%) had purchased sunscreen in 2013, in which the updated sunscreen labels were available. Factors involved in wearing sunscreen included prevention of sunburns for 86 participants (75.4%), followed by preventing skin cancer for 75 participants (65.8%).  Highest SPF (49.1%), sensitive skin formulation (47.4%) and water and sweat resistance (43.0%) were top influences for purchasing a particular sunscreen, while 34.2% of participants indicated broad-spectrum designation as being an important purchasing factor.

The researchers found that 37.7% of participants were able to correctly identify terminology indicating how well sunscreen protected against skin cancer, while 8% were able to identify how well it protected against photoaging and 22.8% against sunburns. The definition of SPF value was correctly understood by 43% of participants. Most participants understood that higher SPF values correlated with increased protection against sunburns (92.1%) and skin cancer (71.0%), but only 28.9% reported knowing that it does not directly protect against photoaging.

Sun avoidance being superior to sun protection in skin cancer prevention was understood by 81.6% of participants.

“Interestingly, participants who indicated ‘highest SPF available’ as an important factor were less likely to answer the question correctly compared with those who did not consider SPF value to be an important factor (P<.05),” the researchers wrote.

When participants were shown a sunscreen label separating designated UVA protection of a star rating system and UVB protection as a SPF value, 78.9% of participants were able to determine the correct level of UVA and 88.6% were able to identify the UVB level of protection.

“A new metric may be needed to better reflect the performance of current sunscreens,” the researchers concluded. – by Bruce Thiel

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.