You’re all doing sunscreen wrong!

From JAMA Dermatology, “Sunscreen Product Performance and Other Determinants of Consumer Preferences“:

Importance: Sunscreen use is a modifiable behavior that can help reduce the risk for skin cancer, prevent sunburns, mitigate photoaging, and treat photosensitive dermatoses. A better understanding of consumer sunscreen preferences would inform dermatologists in their own recommendations.

Objective: To determine the characteristics and the most commonly cited positive and negative features of highly rated sunscreens described by consumers.

Design, Setting, and Participants: The top 1 percentile of sunscreen products on as of December 2015 was selected according to average consumer review (≥4 stars) and the highest number of consumer reviews. Descriptive data for each product were collected from the product page and manufacturer claims. The top 5 “most helpful” reviews (positive and critical) were analyzed and coded by a consensus qualitative coding scheme, which included positive and negative descriptors in 6 major categories according to consumer comments: affordability, cosmetic elegance, separate ratings, product ingredients, product performance, and skin compatibility.

Main Outcomes and Measures: The Kruskal-Wallis test was performed to determine whether characteristics of each product (eg, American Academy of Dermatology [AAD] criteria, sun protection factor [SPF], or vehicle) could be used to predict price per ounce. The number (percentage) of comments categorized by major themes and subthemes was determined. Illustrative consumer comments were also collected.

Sun bad. Sunscreen good. People make choices based on what they hear from commercials, customer reviews, etc. Researchers looked at the top-rated products on Amazon to see if those products met recommendations from the American Academy of Dermatology.

Amazon had about 6500 products categorized as sunscreens. They looked at the top 65. Of those, the median price was $3.32 an ounce.

Right off the bat, that’s a problem. As readers of my book, or viewers of Healthcare Triage, know – you’re supposed to use at least an ounce for each application, and likely apply it multiple times each time you’re out in the sun. At those prices – no one will. The prices varied, per ounce, from $0.68 (better!) to $23.47 (INSANE!).

Next, 40% of the top products didn’t have an SPF of at least 30 or weren’t water resistant. As readers of my book, or viewers of Healthcare Triage, know – anything above SPF 30 is sort of a waste, but that’s what you need as a baseline. And if it rubs off in water or with sweat, what’s the point?

The most cited positive feature (61% of reviews) was cosmetic elegance. THAT’S NOT WHAT SUNSCREEN IS FOR.

You’re all doing sunscreen wrong. Watch this again:


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