New research finds that consumers are getting burned

Using sunscreen correctly is the key to avoiding sunburn

provided by American Academy of Dermatology

ll across America, people of all ages are packing up coolers, towels, blankets and a good book and heading out to their local beaches to enjoy the dog days of summer. While many warm-weather enthusiasts will be tossing a bottle of sunscreen into their beach bag, the majority of them will return home sunburned from not using their sunscreen correctly.

    “Sunburn is a common injury for many people during the summer months and one that is highly preventable,” stated dermatologist Richard F. Wagner, MD, coauthor of “Mechanisms of Sunscreen Failure” published in the May 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. “We found that even beachgoers who used sunscreen were still getting sunburned because they weren't applying enough of it or reapplying it as often as they should.”

    Sunscreen is designed to prevent sunburn and protect against premature aging and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed every year. This year, it is estimated that 51,400 people in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma the deadliest form of skin cancer a 9 percent increase from 2000. In addition, approximately 7,800 deaths will be attributed to melanoma in 2001.

    The study interviewed 67 adult beach-goers at a popular public beach in Galveston, Texas, over a past Fourth of July weekend about their sun-related activities and habits. Each person participating in the study was asked a series of questions which included his or her use of sunscreen and other sun protective items such as hat, clothing and sunglasses, parts of the body to which sunscreen was applied, the number of times previously sunburned, number of hours spent at the beach, and how often sunscreen was reapplied throughout the day.

    “Our study found that 73 percent of those who applied sunscreen became sunburned the majority of these people went swimming and did not reapply sunscreen afterward,” explained Dr. Wagner, Professor of Dermatology, Department of Dermatology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas. “All of the beachgoers who did not get sunburned reapplied sunscreen every one to two hours and after leaving the water if they went swimming. In general, we found that even swimmers who used sunscreen were significantly more likely to be sunburned than non-swimming sunscreen users.”

    Among sunscreen users, the study found that those who applied sunscreen felt that one application of sunscreen would work at least three hours without reapplying; other sunscreen users thought that a single application would last at least four hours. A recent study issued by the American Academy of Dermatology found that people who waited more than 2.5 hours to reapply their sunscreen had five times more chance of getting sunburned than those who reapplied every two hours.

    In addition, previous studies showed that sunscreen users do not apply enough sunscreen in a single application to adequately protect the whole body. Consequently, the SPF achieved will be considerably less than that expected and in many cases will be closer to half of that indicated by the product label. One ounce of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass, is considered the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body completely.

    “Our study demonstrated several factors that suggest that beachgoers' sunburn is not due to a failure of the sunscreen per se, but rather is due to a failure to use the sunscreen appropriately and to reapply it after swimming. A common misconception about sunscreen is that just because you apply it once, you're covered,” said Dr. Wagner.

    The study also found that 78 percent of the women interviewed used sunscreen, versus only 34 percent of the men. Significantly more women (69 percent) also applied sunscreen to their entire exposed skin areas more often than men (14 percent).

    The American Academy of Dermatology's recommendations for effective sunscreen use include:

  • Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
  • Use sunscreens every day if you are going to be in the sun for more than 20 minutes.
  • Apply sunscreens to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.
  • When applying sunscreen, pay particular attention to the face, ears, hands and arms, and generously coat the skin that is not covered by clothing.
  • One ounce of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass, is considered the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body completely.
  • Reapply sunscreens every two hours or immediately after swimming or strenuous activity.

    In addition to wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, a comprehensive sun protection program includes avoiding deliberate tanning with indoor or outdoor light, seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and limiting exposure during peak hours.

    The American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of over 13,000 dermatologists worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the science and art of medicine and surgery related to the skin; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; supporting and enhancing patient care; and promoting a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM or