Top-selling Sunscreens May Not be Beneficial

woman applying sunscreen

As reported by a new study, virtually 40% of popular sunscreens fall short of the American Academy of Dermatology’s standards.

The research revealed that prominent products from in vogue brands such as Neutrogena and Eucerin failed to meet the academy’s sunscreen recommendations, as a result of their inability to withstand water.

Dermatologists “are often asked to recommend sunscreens, and we wanted to know what consumers prefer,” commented lead study author Dr. Steve Xu. “This way, we are suggesting popular products they will actually use that will protect them.”

The academy advises that everyone apply sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection (against UVA and UVB rays), includes a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and repels water.

Two industry groups advised caution regarding the research. “This is not an important finding since not all effective sunscreens must be water-resistant. Many consumers looking for daily use product may prefer sunscreens without this attribute, and it is not critical for the sunscreen to be effective,” the Personal Care Products Council and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association noted in a statement.

The 65 top-performing sunscreens classified in the new research were on the top-selling list on Amazon.com beginning in December and were chosen based a variety of aspects, including customer reviews. The researchers’ objective was to classify high-performing products that are budget-friendly and popular, in order to promote consistent sunscreen use.

“While it is always good to assess consumers’ attitudes, using Amazon.com as the universe of sunscreen purchasers is problematic,” remarked David J. Leffell, a professor of dermatology at Yale University who did not participate in the research. “There were well-known brands not listed in the top tier or in the bottom tier, suggesting that there may be a self-selection by the type of people who buy sunscreen at Amazon.”

Sunscreen purchases are typically influenced by numerous components, such as cosmetic applicability and marketing claims. In top comments for many products analyzed in the study, consumers cited ratings from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization, for their purchasing decisions relating to product safety.

Both Leffell and Xu were surprised to learn that the group is more influential than dermatologists. But neither the organization nor dermatologists appeared to influence consumers’ decisions.

“So that begs the question: Where are consumers getting their information about sunscreen? That might be a more worthwhile study to pursue using a large consumer database,” Leffell observed.

Xu, a resident in dermatology at Northwestern University, noticed that rankings from the Environmental Working Group and the product evaluation magazine Consumer Reports actually do persuade some consumers.

“The label ‘dermatologist recommended’ doesn’t hold as much weight when it’s used by nearly every product,” Xu stated. “When patients ask me what sunscreen to use, I don’t recommend a specific brand, whereas EWG and Consumer Reports do.”

“There’s definitely an impetus for us to understand these external grading systems so we can counsel our patients better,” Xu said.

Just because a product doesn’t follow the American Academy of Dermatology’s guidelines doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop using it, the Personal Care Products Council and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association urged. “Consumers should not take these results to mean products are not effective as claimed,” the groups said.

This study appeared July 6th in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

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