Researchers from King's College London have assessed just how much sun protection people actually receive, based on typical use. It is well known that people don't receive the full ultraviolet radiation blocking benefit of sunscreen, because they are applying it more thinly than manufacturers recommend. The findings are published in journal Acta Dermato-Venereology.
In the first experiment of its kind, the King's team assessed the DNA damage in the skin after lowering sunscreen application thickness below 2mg/cm2 the amount manufacturers use to achieve their SPF rating.
Results showed that sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 50, applied in a typical way, would at best provide 40% of the expected protection. The findings have prompted the King's team to suggest that consumers use a much higher SPF sunscreen than they think necessary, to ensure they're protected from sun damage.
As part of the research scientists divided a cohort of 16 fair-skinned volunteers into two groups of eight (three women and five men in each). One group received a single UVR exposure, to simulate sunlight, to areas treated with high SPF sunscreen of varying thickness, ranging from 0.75mg, through 1.3mg up to 2mg/cm2.
The other group received exposures on five consecutive days -- to mimic continuous holiday exposure. The amount of UVR exposure was varied during the course of the experiment, in order to replicate the conditions in holiday destinations, such as Tenerife, Florida and Brazil.
Biopsies of the UVR exposed areas of skin showed that, for the group that were repeatedly exposed to UVR, considerable DNA damage was found on the areas that received no sun protection, even though the UVR dose was very low.
Damage was reduced when sunscreen was applied at a thickness of 0.75mg/cm2 and considerably reduced when 2mg/cm2 of sunscreen was applied, even with much higher UVR doses.
Five days of exposure to high dose UVR with the sunscreen at 2mg/cm2 showed significantly less damage than just one day's low UVR dose exposure without sunscreen across all samples.