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Brief Report
March 24, 2021

Perceived Usefulness and Recall of Sunscreen Label Information by Consumers

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
  • 2Health Behaviors Research Branch, Behavioral Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland
  • 3Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program, Division of Cancer Prevention, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland
JAMA Dermatol. 2021;157(5):573-576. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.5394
Key Points

Question  What is the consumer’s perceived importance and recall of the active ingredients in sunscreen when selecting a sunscreen product?

Findings  In this qualitative study of 47 participants, active ingredients were not reported to be the primary factor influencing consumers’ sunscreen selection. Consumers’ recall of active ingredients was low, and few reported typically looking at the active ingredients; most consumers considered the sun protection factor rating to be the most important information for selecting a sunscreen.

Meaning  Listing of active ingredients on the front label of sunscreen products may not be as useful to consumers for comparing and selecting sunscreens as previously thought.

Abstract

Importance  In February 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a proposed rule (84 FR 6204), an amendment to the Sunscreen Innovation Act of 2014, that would require listing active ingredients on the principal display panel of sunscreens to allow consumers to “more readily compare products and either select or avoid a given product accordingly.”

Objective  To understand consumers’ perceived importance of active ingredients in sunscreen and their ability to recall these ingredients when comparing, avoiding, or selecting sunscreen products.

Design, Setting, and Participants  In this qualitative study, participants were recruited from Fors Marsh Group and User Works, Inc consumer panels and interviewed in person in November and December 2019. Eligible participants were 18 years or older, reported sunscreen use in the past 12 months, and were residents of the Washington, DC, area. After viewing 2 mock sunscreen labels (1 that meets current US Food and Drug Administration requirements and 1 designed to meet proposed requirements), participants were asked questions to assess their perceived importance of active ingredients in sunscreen products, whether they could recall any of the active ingredients on the labels, and whether they typically looked for active ingredients on a sunscreen label.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The main outcomes were the sunscreen label information used by participants to select a sunscreen and their ability to recall the active ingredients after viewing 2 mock sunscreen labels.

Results  The mean (SD) age of the 47 participants was 42.8 (13.6) years, 32 (68%) were women, and 40 (85%) had a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Of the total, 13 (28%) participants stated that sunscreen ingredients influenced their sunscreen selection, but only 5 (11%) said it was the most important information. Instead, 34 (72%) participants stated that the sun protection factor rating was the most important information. After viewing the mock sunscreen labels, only 5 (11%) participants recalled any of the active ingredients, although 10 (21%) reported typically looking at active ingredients when choosing a sunscreen.

Conclusions and Relevance  This qualitative study investigated the US Food and Drug Administration’s proposed new rule requiring that active ingredients be listed on the front of sunscreen labels to facilitate product comparison for consumers. However, active ingredients were not reported to be a primary reason for consumers’ sunscreen selection. Recall of active ingredients was low, and few consumers reported typically looking at the active ingredients, which were more commonly used to avoid ingredients rather than to select a sunscreen. Therefore, listing active ingredients on the front label alone may not have the intended usefulness for consumers.

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