Consumers confused about sunscreen SPF ratings

October 29, 2013

Some misconceptions have sprung up about sunscreen SPF values. Curtis Cole, Ph.D., sees a need to dispel some myths, and a need for for dermatologists to do a better job of educating their patients about sun protection.

 

Some misconceptions have sprung up about sunscreen SPF values. Curtis Cole, Ph.D., ‎vice president of research and development at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products, sees a need to dispel some myths - as well as a need for dermatologists to do a better job of educating their patients about sun protection.

Dr. Cole spoke on the topic in a presentation at the recent Fall Clinical Dermatology Conference in Las Vegas. “My intent was to educate dermatologists that sunscreens are safe and that higher SPF products do give higher levels of protection,” Dr. Cole told Dermatology Times after the conference.

This in direct contrast to what some consumer groups are saying about sunscreens’ SPF ratings: that a sunscreen with a 60 SPF, for example, doesn’t protect the skin much better than one with a 30 SPF - and that, therefore, higher-SPF products give users a false sense of security.

“Actually, a product with a 60 SPF offers about twice the protection as one with a 30 SPF,” Dr. Cole says. “Higher SPF values mean there is a longer required exposure time to reach the same level of sunburn damage. Americans under-apply sunscreen. They apply about one-quarter to one-half of what they should. If you start with a higher SPF, it gives you a little more safety margin.”

Dr. Cole noted that the Food and Drug Administration is considering putting a cap on how high an SPF rating can be.

“We are adamant that we should be allowed to claim the true SPF up to 100, because we know that the higher the SPF, the better the protection,” he said. “If the ratings are capped, consumers will have no way of determining the protection level.”

Dermatologists’ efforts to educate their patients about sunscreens are falling short, Dr. Cole says, noting that a recent study revealed that dermatologists mention sunscreen in less than 2 percent of their patient visits.

“Derms also need to tell their patients that when they apply sunscreen, don’t rub it in - rather, spread it over the skin,” he says. “Remember: Instead of what is blocked, what is important is what gets through. The damage to cells are cumulative, they don’t repair. Tell patients to think about how much cumulative damage they’re getting across a lifetime. It’s about protection against tomorrow’s wrinkles or skin cancer.”