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How much do consumers know about new sunscreen labels?

The JAMA Network Journals

Sunscreen labels may still be confusing to consumers, with only 43 percent of those surveyed understanding the definition of the sun protection factor (SPF) value, according to the results of a small study published in a research letter online by JAMA Dermatology.

UV-A radiation is associated with skin aging, UV-B radiation is associated with sunburns, and exposure to both is a risk factor for skin cancer. In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced new regulations for sunscreen labels to emphasize protection against both UV-A and UV-B radiation, now known as broad spectrum protection.

Roopal V. Kundu, M.D., of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, and coauthors surveyed 114 patients at a dermatology clinic to assess consumer knowledge of sunscreen labels and general sun protection behaviors.

The authors found that most patients (93 [81.6 percent]) had purchased sunscreen in 2013 and preventing sunburns was an important factor for why most patients (86[75.4 percent]) wore sunscreen, followed by preventing skin cancer (75 patients[65.8 percent]) . The three top factors influencing patients' decisions to purchase a particular sunscreen were highest SPF value, sensitive skin formulation, and water and sweat resistance.

However, fewer than half of the participants were able to correctly identify terminology on a label that indicated how well the sunscreen protected against skin cancer (43 patients [37.7 percent]), photoaging (8[7 percent]) and sunburns (26[22.8 percent]). Also, only 49 patients (43 percent) understood the definition of SPF value.

"Despite the recent changes in labeling mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this survey study suggests that the terminology on sunscreen labels may still be confusing to consumers," the study concludes.


(JAMA Dermatology. Published online June 17, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.1253. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor's Note: Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

Media Advisory: To contact corresponding author Roopal V. Kundu, M.D., call Erin Spain at 847-491-4888 or email

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