Sunscreen: Separating Opinion from Fact

Written by Eduardo Ruvolo, director of medical affairs for Bayer
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Volumes of information are now conveniently accessible through the internet and social media by simply pressing the "Enter" key. Each year, as the start of the annual sunscreen season rolls around, it brings out conflicting opinions – even debates – on sun care. The conflicting messages, which come from a variety of sources, are published in traditional and social media and can make their way into conversations among friends and family.


The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a United States senator, once said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." While consumers are entitled to their own opinions on sunscreen – regardless of their experience, scientific credentials, or expertise – facts that are based on science, data, real-world testing, and the findings of those who have dedicated their lives to advancing the field of sun protection are pretty consistent.

Unfortunately, numerous opinions in the field of sun protection that are not based on fact are being offered consistently. These opinions are not offered by scientists and are not based on science or clinical or real-use population studies involving relevant data. Worst of all, these opinions can result in consumers making decisions that have the potential to put their health at risk.

There is even data showing that the greatest casualty in the sharing of misinformation is the consumer. In 2015, a study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology showed that most participants do not know how to interpret sunscreen labels. The same study also showed that fewer than half its participants could correctly identify the label terminology that indicated how well a sunscreen protects against skin cancer. The confusion is understandable as people are presented with contradictory and, sometimes, misinformed advice.

Educating and empowering consumers is essential to people protecting their skin against harmful rays that can lead to sun damage, premature skin aging, and skin cancer.

What can sunscreen manufacturers do to help consumers separate fact from fiction? The first step is being transparent, which is a key element in establishing greater trust. Bayer, the maker of Coppertone, recognized the importance of this step and proactively took measures to get in front of the information that is published each year when the temperature rises.

In order to empower consumers with the information they need to make informed sunscreen choices, Bayer commissioned an independent consulting and standards firm to conduct an assessment of their internal processes, systems, controls, and performance guidelines for the labeling accuracy of 10 of its top Coppertone products in the United States. Bayer gave the external assurance provider access to the necessary facilities, records, and people to conduct its review. In an unprecedented step, Bayer made the report available to the public.

In order to improve sunscreen usage, it is pivotal for skin care professionals to recognize the common issue of misinformed consumers when it comes to sun care principles and products; as a result, professionals can actively take steps to educate consumers.

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