Study Finds Sunscreens are a Key Component of Sun Safety

By Kimberly Norman, Ph.D., DABT, ERT
Senior Director, Safety and Regulatory Toxicology

Do you know the best strategies to protect yourself from overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays and reduce your skin cancer risk?

A recent nationwide study — Application Habits of SPF Users in the United States: Results of a Nationwide Survey[1] — surveyed more than 2,200 regular sunscreen users in the U.S. about how they use sunscreen products. Unlike previous studies, which have primarily focused on recreational use of sunscreen, this study also evaluated how individuals are using the wide variety of available sunscreen products, including facial skin care, cosmetics and lip care.

The study found that spray sunscreen is applied more often on larger areas of the body and hard-to-reach areas than lotion sunscreen, whereas the latter is applied more often on sensitive areas like the face and neck. Survey data also highlighted parents’ awareness of the importance of reapplying sunscreens, paying significantly more attention to water exposure, number of hours passed since application, redness, etc., for their children than themselves.   

Unique drivers such as weather conditions, time spent outside and planned activities impact the types of sunscreen products used. Survey respondents were more likely to use sunscreens on sunny days, when spending more than three hours outside and participating in beach activities. The study also demonstrates a variety of safe-sun behaviors by regular sunscreen users such as other forms of sun protection, but less than 15% of survey respondents know that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates sunscreens as over-the-counter drugs requiring rigorous testing. The FDA ensures that broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB radiation and are safe and effective.

Countless health-care professionals and organizations such as the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention and the American Cancer Society recommend the following sun-protection strategies: 

Make sunscreen part of your daily routine:

    • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher even on a cloudy day
    • Apply 30 minutes before going outdoors
    • Reapply every two hours or more frequently if sweating or if in water

Wear protective clothing:

    • A wide-brimmed hat 
    • Long-sleeved shirt and pants
    • UPF clothing 
    • UV-protective sunglasses

Be smart around the sun:

    • Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest
    • Seek shade from an umbrella, tree or other shade structure
    • Use extra caution near water, snow and sand, which reflect the damaging rays of the sun and increase your chance of sunburn
    • Check the UV index before heading outside and protect your skin accordingly

Visit your healthcare professional every year for a skin exam.

This Fourth of July — and every day — celebrate sun protection. Remember, the best sunscreen is the one you’ll actually use. Happy sun-safe Fourth of July!


[1] Application Habits of SPF Users in the United States: Results of a Nationwide Survey by K. Norman, PCPC; L. Loretz, PCPC; A. Kowcz, PCPC; L. Kaufman, Scripterra Scientific; and J. Nash, Procter & Gamble