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Your Sunscreen Smells Nice, But Does It Work?

Sorting through the multitude of sunscreen options can be tricky—especially since the most popular ones don’t necessarily offer the sun protection you need, according to a study in JAMA Dermatology. Researchers behind the study analyzed the top one percent of sunscreens on Amazon.com (65 products total) based on the average consumer rating (greater than or equal to four stars) and the highest number of consumer reviews. Here’s what they discovered about these products:

  • Forty percent (26 of 65) didn’t conform to the American Academy of Dermatology’s (AAD) guidelines, which recommend broad spectrum, water/sweat resistant sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Consumers reviewed the products based on their affordability, ingredients, performance, skin compatibility, and “cosmetic elegance” (such as a pleasant color, smell, or feel), among other factors. A product’s cosmetic elegance garnered the most attention in the reviews, suggesting that consumers may be unduly persuaded by a sunscreen’s more superficial characteristics.

Nevertheless, consumer sunscreen preferences may not be as inconsistent with the AAD’s criteria as might first appear. According to the study, the number one reason why sunscreens failed to adhere to the guidelines is because they weren’t water/sweat resistant. But, according to two industry groups that commented on the study in the Washington Post—the Personal Care Products Council and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association—water-resistance is not necessarily important if you’re not going to be exposed to water. Even the study’s lead researcher agreed on this point. So, while following the AAD’s guidelines is generally a good idea, consumers should feel empowered to choose a sunscreen that meets their needs.

Source: JAMA Dermatology

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