Choose Your Sunscreen Wisely
It's summertime and for many of us that means a lot more time spent outdoors. That is wonderful, but the combination of more intense sunlight and greater amounts of skin exposed due to hot weather can result in pretty bad sunburns if you're not careful. The problem is, even if you think you are being super careful and always apply sunscreen before an outing, you might not be as safe as you believe. New research suggests that lots of popular sunscreens are not that effective.
The study, which took place at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, found that many of the best-selling brands of sunscreen do not meet the standards of effectiveness set out by the American Academy of Dermatology.1 The scientists worked with a list of products comprised of the 65 top-rated sunscreens according to the top sellers on Amazon.com in December 2015.
A variety of factors were considered in deciding on this list such as popularity and customer reviews. The investigators' intent was to determine which sunscreens are the most commonly chosen, well performing, and affordable, with the thought that if all of these elements are combined, people will be more likely to regularly apply it. They judged each sunscreen on the list against the American Academy of Dermatology's recommendations that a product have broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays, a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, and be water resistant.
The majority of the sunscreens analyzed met the necessary criteria for the broad-spectrum protection and the SPF threshold, but it was in the area of water resistance in which they fell short. Almost 40 percent of these best-selling sunscreens--26 out of the 65--did not offer adequate water resistance. A water-resistant formula is important because it will afford you greater protection as it will last for 40 minutes spent in a pool or other body of water, and it does not readily wash away when you sweat, unlike a non-water-resistant sunscreen. However, even when you use water-resistant products, it is important to reapply as soon as you dry off.
That said, there are some shortcomings to the design of this research. Basing the list on what is most popular on Amazon.com may not be the most accurate representation of what sunscreens people are truly using. In December, stores may not be well stocked on sunscreens, so people turn to Amazon to order a few bottles before a trip. However, that might not be what they would typically buy between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Another factor to consider is the necessity of a water-resistant product. After all, if you are not a swimmer and don't plan to get wet beyond maybe a little dip of a foot, water resistance may not be essential. And the same holds true if you're not going to be working up a sweat. If it is not hot enough out for you to break a sweat just sitting or walking around and you have no plans to exercise, you'll probably do just as well with a sunscreen that doesn't offer water resistance. In either case, you will need to reapply after a while anyway.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is finding a sunscreen you really like and will use regularly. After all, skin cancer is the most common form of this disease, and an estimated 5.4 million cases are diagnosed annually in the United States alone.2 The products evaluated in the current study were much more likely to have adequate broad-spectrum protection and SPFs, which are the areas everyone needs to concentrate on if spending time outside. You should be able to determine easily enough whether you will be needing a water-resistant formula or not, so buy accordingly.
And don't forget to take into consideration a sunscreen's cost (since most of us go through quite a bit of the stuff, especially if we're protecting a whole family), scent, and feeling. If you're going to be sticky for hours or become nauseated by the smell on your skin, you might want to try a different product.
And don't forget to protect your lips.
- 1. Xu, Shuai; et al. "Sunscreen Product Performance and Other Determinants of Consumer Preferences." JAMA Dermatology. 6 July 2016. Accessed 8 July 2016. http://archderm.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2532615#
- 2. "Skin Cancer Facts." American Cancer Society. 19 April 2016. Accessed 9 July 2016. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/sunanduvexposure/skin-cancer-facts