Many Popular Sunscreens Aren't Up to AAD Standards

Many popular sunscreen options don’t adhere to American Academy of Dermatology efficacy guidelines.

Many popular sunscreen options don’t adhere to American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) efficacy guidelines.

In a study recently published inJAMA Dermatology, investigators from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine searched “sunscreen” on and selected the top 1 percentile of products as of December 2015 according to average consumer reviews (4 stars or more) and the highest number of consumer reviews.

Ultimately, 65 products were selected for analysis. The average price of the products was $3.32 per ounce, the median SPF was 35, 92% made broad-spectrum coverage claims on their labeling, and 62% were labeled as water or sweat resistant.

The researchers discovered that 40% of the sunscreens didn’t meet AAD criteria, which include SPF of 30 or more, broad-spectrum claim, and water or sweat resistance. Particularly, a significant number of the products (30%) that didn’t meet AAD standards didn’t do so because they weren’t actually water or sweat resistant.

The product reviews revealed that consumers largely made their sunscreen purchase choices based on “cosmetic elegance,” which include skin sensation on application, color, or scent. Product performance, skin compatibility, and product ingredients followed thereafter, the researchers reported.

Notably, they also discovered that prices within the cohort varied by as much as 3000%.

“Although expense was not frequently cited as a negative feature, previous studies have shown that expensive sunscreens may compel patients to use less,” the study authors observed.

Sunscreen use is a modifiable behavior proven to lower the risk of skin damage, so clinicians “should counsel patients that sunscreen products come with numerous marketing claims and varying cosmetic applicability, all of which must be balanced with adequate photoprotection,” the researchers concluded.

When patients walk into retail clinics, clinicians can take the opportunity to advise them on the importance of selecting products that meet AAD standards.

For optimal sun safety, clinicians should also advise patients to wear a hat and protective clothing in addition to using sunscreen throughout the entire sun exposure period.

Here are some general sunscreencounseling points:

  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30
  • Use sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB light
  • Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours and after sweating or swimming

Repeated sunburns can increase the risk for skin damage and certain diseases, including wrinkled skin, dark spots, rough spots, and skin cancers like melanoma. In fact,study resultssuggest that an individual’s risk of developing skin cancer doubles if he or she has experienced 5 or more episodes of sunburn.

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