Sunscreens used at the beach do not protect against erythema: a new definition of SPF is proposed

Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 1997 Aug;13(4):129-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0781.1997.tb00215.x.


Since sunscreens are recommended by doctors and used all over the world to protect against sun induced erythema, it is important to evaluate if sunscreens are used as recommended and if the intended effect is achieved. We refer to the findings of several studies performed on people at risk of sun-burning at beaches in the vicinity of Copenhagen, Denmark. On a sunny day at the beach 65% of the sunbathers used one or more sunscreens. Of these, 46% used the sunscreen all over the body and a median sun protection factor (SPF) of 5-6 was used. The sunbathers used 0.5 mg/cm2 of sunscreen independent of skin type. Of the sunscreen users, 43% applied the sunscreen after arriving at the beach and 43% reapplied the sunscreen after swimming. The sun exposure time and the sun exposure dose were almost identical among sunscreen users and non-users. Self-assessed redness of the skin demonstrated that more sunscreen users than non-users reported to be red the day after sun exposure, 42 and 34%, respectively. Theoretical calculations support this findings and show a drastic reduction in the achieved photoprotection if a thinner layer than in the test situation is used. Sunscreens do not protect against erythema if not used as intended. Instead of changing people's habits, we suggest modifying the test method by adjusting the amount of sunscreen to that used in real life situations, 0.5 mg/cm2.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Body Surface Area
  • Denmark
  • Erythema / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Care
  • Self-Assessment
  • Sunburn / prevention & control
  • Sunlight / adverse effects*
  • Sunscreening Agents / administration & dosage
  • Sunscreening Agents / classification
  • Sunscreening Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Swimming
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Sunscreening Agents