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Sunscreen often used incorrectly, study finds

Photo by the National Cancer Institute ID 2710

New research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (May 16, 2017) illustrates some mistakes that people make when applying sunscreen.

In a research letter called “Observational study of free public sunscreen dispenser use at a major U.S. outdoor event,” investigators set up free sunscreen dispensers at 10 information booths throughout the grounds at the Minnesota State Fair. The fair attracts over 1.7 million attendees and volunteers inconspicuously observed 2,187 people using sunscreen at four stations over the course of 93 hours. Titanium and zinc–based sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 was selected for its hypoallergenic properties.

Only one-third (33%) of people applied sunscreen to all exposed skin, and just 38% were wearing sun-protective clothing, hats, or sunglasses. Additionally, utilization of the free sunscreen dispensers decreased significantly on cloudy days. “These results highlight some of the ways people use sunscreen incorrectly,” said dermatologist Dr. Ingrid Polcari, an assistant professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis and one of the study authors, in a press release. “To get the best possible sun protection, it’s important to wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, and to apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, not just your face and arms.” “Everyone should apply sunscreen every time they go outside,” Dr. Polcari added. “Even on cloudy days, up to 80 per cent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can reach your skin.” The researchers also observed that more women than men utilized the free sunscreen dispensers at the state fair—while 51% of the fair attendees were women, they accounted for 57% of the sunscreen users.

“Research has shown that women are more likely than men to use sunscreen, but it’s vital that men use it too,” says Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, a clinical professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at New York University. “Men over 50 have a higher risk than the general population of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and UV exposure is the most preventable skin cancer risk factor, so it’s important for men of all ages to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying sunscreen.” The investigators stated, “our study also highlights the public’s receptiveness to free sunscreen, with a calculated estimate of about 17,000 persons using the sunscreen over the course of the event.”

The authors acknowledged the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center for grant support, Pharmaceutical Specialties, Inc. for donation of the sunscreen, and the Minnesota State Fair for “their enthusiastic support of this effort.”

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