Are Sunscreen Labels Too Confusing?

sunblockAccording to Cosmetics Design, new research shows that United States consumers are often confused by the terms used on sunscreen bottles. Researchers at Northwestern University found that only 43% of people surveyed understood what sun factor protection meant, while only a measly 7% could identify sunscreen with anti-aging properties.

The research was published in the June 17 edition of the Journal of JAMA Dermatology. It sends a clear message to sunscreen brands and manufacturers — either better educate your consumer or simplify your labels.

The interesting part of this finding is that more information about the effects of UVA and UVB rays is more available than ever to consumers, sparking a sudden outpouring of products targeting skin aging and damaging issues. Despite the availability of these products, it seems that many consumers find themselves unable to choose the best ones.

UVA or UVB?

In a survey conducted last summer, participants named the top factors in selecting sunscreen to be the highest SPF value, water resistance, and sensitive skin formulations. Researchers pointed out that the heavy reliance on SPF value displayed the consumers’ confusion about sun protection — as a high SPF alone does not guarantee full UVA and UVB protection. In fact, SPF30 is recommended for most skin types because it blocks 97% of UVB rays.

To clarify, UVA rays are mostly responsible for skin damage such as wrinkling and aging. These rays penetrate the skin much more deeply than UVB rays but do not necessarily cause the reddening and sunburn we see with UVBs. SPF values really only tell us how much the sunscreen is protecting from UVB rays. Currently, the FDA does not require sunscreens to protect against UVA rays at all. However, a broad spectrum sunscreen does protect from both.

There were some sunscreens that better enabled customers’ to understand the difference between UVA and UVB. These bottles used a star system to rate the UVA protection and noted UVB protection with SPF value.