Application of sunscreen--theory and reality

Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2014 Apr-Jun;30(2-3):96-101. doi: 10.1111/phpp.12099. Epub 2014 Jan 6.


We present research on sunscreen use with possible pitfalls and discuss theory vs. reality. A literature review in PubMed was conducted using the terms 'sunscreen application', 'sunscreen use' and 'sun protection factor'. The sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreens are tested using a thickness of 2 mg/cm(2) , but investigations show that sunscreen under natural conditions is applied insufficiently with amounts about 0.39 to 1.0 mg/cm(2) , which decreases the protection factor considerably. It has been shown that early reapplication or use of very high SPF (70-100) may partly compensate for the discrepancy between the amounts of sunscreen applied during testing and in reality, and that sunscreen application can be improved by education of consumers. Missing areas and ultraviolet radiation exposure before sunscreen application are other pitfalls that reduce the protective effect of sunscreens considerably. Current sunscreen labelling overrates the protective effect of a given sunscreen when the reality of sunscreen use is taken into account. This may possibly mislead consumers to feel it is safe to extend sun exposure. Alternatively to educating people to use large amounts of sunscreen, we suggest a simple teaching strategy: (1) Apply before sun exposure and (2) Reapply once within 1 h.

Keywords: sun protection factor; sunscreen application; sunscreen use.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Sunlight / adverse effects
  • Sunscreening Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Sunscreening Agents