Sunscreens: safety, efficacy and appropriate use

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2002;3(3):185-91. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200203030-00005.


Promoting sunscreen use is an integral part of prevention programmes aimed at reducing ultraviolet (UV) radiation-induced skin damage and skin cancers. Protection against both UVB and UVA radiation is advocated. Most sunscreens combine chemical UV absorbing sunscreens and physical inorganic sunscreens, which reflect UV, to provide broad-spectrum protection. Newer triazole and camphor-derivative based sunscreens, also provide broad-spectrum protection and are more cosmetically acceptable than many traditional agents. Currently licensed sunscreen ingredients in common use rarely cause allergic or photoallergic reactions. Vitamin D levels are not significantly affected by regular use of a sunscreen. Sunscreen use reduces both the development of precancerous solar keratosis and the recurrence of squamous cell carcinomas. Sunscreen use early in life may be important in prevention of basal cell carcinomas. Increased melanoma risk is influenced by the behaviour patterns of regular sunscreen users, as opposed to any direct effect of sunscreens. Sun protection factor (SPF) is affected by application density, water resistance and other factors. An adequate SPF for an individual should be balanced to skin phenotype and exposure habits. The correct use of sunscreens should be combined with the avoidance of midday sun and the wearing of protective clothing and glasses, as part of an overall sun protection regimen.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Sunscreening Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Sunscreening Agents