Hello, Sunscreen! Do I know you?:

By Huijing Y., with contributions from Hannah Gibson and Chahana P.

When summer comes, people like to visit beaches and enjoy outdoor activities. Sunscreen becomes indispensable for people to protect their skin from sun damage and skin cancer. As consumers, we determine what sunscreens to use and buy. Do the public/consumers know enough information about sunscreens? Do they actually protect our skin? Let’s find out.

To investigate how much people know about sunscreen, we distributed a survey to approximately 60 people. 33 responded. Most were high school students. Some were teachers or adults from non-profit organizations. Their ages range from 15 to 40.

Here is a summary of our survey results:

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According to our survey, 76% of the respondents use sunscreen. It is a good sign that the majority of people are aware of the harm of being exposed to sunlight. So they take their first action and start to use sunscreen. However, most of the respondents do not use the sunscreen when it is cloudy or cold outside; indicating that people do not believe that they could still be harmed by UV when it is cloudy or cold.

Let’s talk about how much people know about sunscreen. Half of the respondents state that they know what the SPF is. But none of the respondents could write it out in this 2-minute survey. In fact, SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It refers to the theoretical amount of time you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. For instance, if your skin starts to redden in 10 minutes without using sunscreen, applying a sunscreen with SPF 15 increases that time by a factor of 15, indicating you could stay in the sun for 150 minutes. Also, a higher SPF blocks out more UVB: a product with SPF 15 could filter out around 93%, a product with SPF 30 filters out around 97%.

It seems like higher SPF means better protection for your skin. 59% of respondents believe higher SPF would provide more for their skin. In fact, there is not enough evidence to prove that higher SPF provides better protection since the amount of skin protection depends on how sunscreen is used. For example, the longer sunscreen stays on the skin, the more it will be wiped off by clothes and sweat and the less skin protection it provides. Sunscreen should protect skin from UVA and UVB. But SPF is only applied to the UVB. Consumers should be aware of the ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which can protect skin from UVA. Above all, consumers only know basic information about sunscreen.

We found out what we can do to educate people about sunscreen. We found out most respondents buy sunscreen in a convenience store where the salespeople don’t know much about sunscreen. Consumers hardly get sufficient information when they ask salespeople questions about sunscreen. Also, salespeople in cosmetic stores are considered to be professionals. Consumers are likely to trust what they say about the sunscreen. However not all salespeople in cosmetic stores understand how to use sunscreen properly and how to choose a good sunscreen. Based on this, we propose these tips for consumers looking to buy sunscreen.

  • Find credible articles online about SPF and sunscreen protection.
  • Read the ingredients on the product before buying it.
  • Ask your family doctor how to use sunscreen properly and effectively.

Now we know sunscreen. Next time you see some, say out loud, ”Hey sunscreen, how’s it going?”

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