Misunderstanding leads consumers to skip sunscreen

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sunscreen

A leading US dermatologist has underlined a number of mistruths
that explain why consumers do not use sunscreen properly or else do
not use it all, providing food for thought for sunscreen

Despite a seemingly never-ending round of health warnings and educational programs by both government authorities and cancer organizations, Marta VanBeek, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Iowa points out that consumer awareness over sunscreens is still limited.

This means that skin cancer rates are still rising dramatically in the US - though much of the damage caused by the sun is often accumulated over a long period time.

Either way, currently over 1.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year in the US, with many of these cases attributable to sun exposure and entirely avoidable if the correct protective measures are taken.

VanBeek points out that one of the biggest misunderstandings over sunscreen is the level of and type of protection, with confusion still reigning over SPFs and how much protection they provide, as well as over products that provide both UVA and UVB filters.

"The problem with sunscreen is that most people don't use enough to fully protect themselves," VanBeek said.

"If used all over the body, an eight-ounce bottle should really only last a few applications.

I usually tell people to use SPF-30 and figure they're getting the protection of SPF-15."

Likewise, although most sunscreen products have done a lot of 'catching up' in recent years, having extended SPF range and providing both UVA and UVB protection, VanBeek points out that not all sunscreens available on the market have kept up with this trend.

"The brand name doesn't matter.

More expensive does not mean better as long as the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays," said VanBeek.

But in line with the growing sophistication of sunscreen formulation, consumers are also getting increasingly skeptical over the possible side effects of an array of active ingredients that have stretched the boundaries of sunscreen protection to new heights.

VanBeek points out that ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate and avobenzone have all helped to increase the efficacy of sunscreen products, but have created uncertainty amongst consumers.

This uncertainty has been driven by reports from consumer lobby groups and other sources, claiming that some active ingredients in sunscreens can trigger health problems such as cancers and also lead to premature wrinkling.

VanBeek disputes these claims, pointing to the fact that groups suffering from skin conditions such a lupus or xeroderma pigmentosa that have been using particularly large amounts of sunscreen over long periods of time have not reported any significant side effects.

Likewise, individuals have also been shying away from sunscreen use because of the belief that it impedes the production of vitamin D in the body.

VanBeek says that sunscreens will still allow for the body to get vitamin D, adding that there are plenty of other sources, including vitamin D enhanced milk.

Equally there are problems relating to the way in which sunscreens are used and its efficacy.

Often individuals apply sunscreens once during a day, not realizing that under normal conditions they should re-apply sunscreen every 2-hours, VanBeek says.

Further to this, there are also issues relating to both aquatic and sporting activities, when sunscreens, even those that are claimed to be water-resistant, are often stretched to the upper limits of their resistance and protective properties.

Considering this, VanBeek recommends that individuals re-apply sunscreen after swimming and that they constantly re-apply sunscreen when participating in sports or in conditions whereby they sweat profusely.

Although sunscreen manufacturers have responded to rising cancer rates by formulating more effective sunscreens, it appears that more effective products is only half the solution.

Evidently future marketing campaigns and the labeling of sunscreen products will have to take into account the fact that consumers still have much to learn on the subject.

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