A Royal Pharmaceutical Society survey into sunscreen use has revealed a worrying lack of understanding about the degree of sun protection different products provide.
In particular, many are unaware that the SPF rating alone displayed in sunscreen labelling does not guarantee good all round protection from potential sun damage.
In the survey of 2,000 GB adults, only 8% of those surveyed knew that the SPF rating on the product label refers to protection from UVB rays only - and does not also include protection from harmful UVA rays - typically indicated by a separate 'star' rating. More than 80% said they either thought the SPF was an indication of levels of protection from both UVB and UVA (56%) or they simply did not know what the rating stood for (25%).
Less than a third of those surveyed said they always checked the UVA star rating when buying sunscreen (31%), and 20% of students and 15% of adults with children in their household admitted that they never checked it.
Chief Scientist for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Professor Jayne Lawrence said:
"This survey indicates that there is a huge amount of confusion around sunscreen labelling that is a barrier to effective sun protection. Clearly many consumers do not realise the SPF rating applies only to the amount of protection offered against UVB rays, not UVA rays - both of which can damage the skin and cause skin cancer."
"People should not have to pick their way through complicated dual ratings information to understand how sunscreen works and the amount of protection it potentially provides. We think it's time for sunscreen manufacturers to provide one easy to understand rating, based on a simple description of the total amount of sun protection offered: low, medium, high and very high protection.
"People now have largely got the message that they must protect their skin from the sun using sunscreen, along with other precautions such as covering up and keeping out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. What the RPS is calling for now is one uniform measure for all sun protection products, so pharmacists can provide easy to understand advice on the effectiveness of products and how they should be used."
Under half of those surveyed (44%) always or often used sunscreen when out in the sun and a third (31%) of those asked either did not know how much lotion to apply or thought they should apply less than needed to ensure protection*. Only 13% said they reapplied sunscreen every two hours when out in sunny weather in the UK, which is the advised amount. A quarter of those surveyed (25%) said they always used sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher when sunbathing in the UK, and 30% said they try to stay in the shade between the hours of 11am-3pm.