For patients who regularly cover up with sunscreen hoping to prevent sunburns, cancer, and other sun-related health problems, a new study published in JAMA Dermatology might have some worrisome news. The study suggests that a significant proportion of sunscreens don’t meet recommended guidelines, meaning they may not be providing as much protection as consumers think.
The study involved examining the sun protection labels of 65 sunscreens found in the top one percent of all sunscreens sold in the Amazon.com online catalogue. This included traditional sunscreens and moisturizers or lotions that advertised sun protection.
Researchers found that the top sunscreens varied greatly with respect to price and protection offered. Forty percent of the sunscreens examined did not meet American Academy of Dermatology guidelines regarding broad spectrum, SPF or water resistance. Further, while the middle price per ounce was $3.32, the actual price per ounce ranged from $0.68 up to $23.47. But researchers did not find that a higher price was associated with greater sun protection.
“There is wide variability in price, SFP protection, and product claims among commercially available sunscreens,” researchers noted.
Sunscreen makers are not allowed to market their product as waterproof or sweat-proof, but water-resistant sunscreens—products that are effective for up to 40 minutes in the water—are recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. Researchers noted that consumers should select sunscreens with broad-spectrum coverage, an SPF of 30 or higher, and some form of water resistance.
Sunscreen products are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as over-the-counter drugs. This gives the FDA the authority to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of sunscreen products. But Consumer Reports notes that the FDA does not test sunscreens itself. It relies on the manufacturers to do this. This testing does not have to be done regularly; it is conducted when a product is new or has been reformulated.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen labels are required to carry information as to whether the product is broad spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays), what its SPF is, and whether it is water resistant or very water resistant (effective for up to 80 minutes in the water).
Sunscreens That Don’t Protect To Their SPF Rating
A recent study by Consumer Reports found that 43 percent of sunscreens did not offer the SPF protection they advertised. The study, published May 17, 2016, found that three sunscreens had an SPF less than 15, well below the SPF 30 recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Meanwhile, in the four years Consumer Reports has conducted its testing, they have found that 50 percent of sunscreens tested had an SPF lower than the SPF advertised on the label, and one-third of the sunscreens had an SPF lower than 30. Consumer Reports noted that the products that did the worst in testing were mineral-based sunscreens, compared with chemical sunscreens.
“Choosing a chemical sunscreen with an SPF of 40 or higher will give you a better chance of getting at least an SPF 30, the minimum level many dermatologists recommend,” Consumer Reports advises.