Sunscreen Labels Still Confuse Consumers

June 17, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

More than half of consumers don't understand sun protection factor (SPF) values, providing pharmacists important opportunities to offer sun safety counseling.

More than half of consumers don’t understand sun protection factor (SPF) values, providing pharmacists important opportunities to offer sun safety counseling.

Recent survey results published in JAMA Dermatology revealed a lack of consumer knowledge surrounding sunscreen labels and the information they contain on sun protection and skin cancer.

Only 43% of the 114 patients surveyed at a dermatology clinic understood SPF values, and even fewer participants could correctly identify terminology on a sunscreen’s label that determined its ability to prevent skin cancer. Meanwhile, only 7% understood the language related to photoaging, and less than a quarter understood how well the sunscreen could protect against sunburn.

Only about half the group could identify how much sunscreen was needed to cover their bodies to achieve the level of sun protection the product promoted.

In 2011, the FDA released new regulations for OTC sunscreen products to emphasize the importance of protection against both UVA radiation, which is associated with skin aging, and UVB radiation, which is linked to sunburns. Since then, sunscreens that pass the FDA’s test for protection against both have been labeled “broad-spectrum.”

Despite these mandated labeling changes, “the terminology on sunscreen labels may still be confusing to consumers,” the survey authors concluded.

Pharmacy Times contributor Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh, said pharmacists can steer patients in the right direction as they consider sunscreen purchases. She suggested counseling patients on buying a broad-spectrum and water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30. Dr. Gershman also said pharmacists can remind patients to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, as well as after swimming and sweating.

“Pharmacists can serve as a great resource for sun safety counseling, including sunscreen product education and tools for patients,” Dr. Gershman wrote. “Additionally, pharmacists can refer patients to dermatologists through an interdisciplinary approach to melanoma prevention and detection.”

The survey participants cited sunburn prevention as the most critical reason to wear sunscreen, followed by skin cancer prevention.

Patients are most interested in sunscreen brands with high SPV values, sensitive skin formulations, and water and sweat resistance.

Pharmacy Times and U.S. World News & Report’s 2015 OTC Guide released this week noted 40% of pharmacists recommend Neutrogena sunscreen. Coppertone, at 24%, and Banana Boat, at 14%, were the next most popular brands.