Only 43% of consumers actually understood the definition of sun protection factor (SPF) and just about 7% knew what to look for on a label if they wanted a sunscreen that offered protection against early skin aging.
Dr. Roopal Kundu, lead study author, Northwestern University said, "We need to do a better job of educating people about sun protection and make it easier for them to understand labels."
Researchers surveyed 114 participants and asked a series of questions regarding their sunscreen use and their knowledge on labeling terms placed on sunscreen bottles.
While close to 80 percent of participants had purchased sunscreen in 2013 primarily to prevent risk of sunburn and skin cancer, there were still many misconceptions regarding sunscreen.
Roughly 44 percent of participants didn't know how much sunscreen had to be applied for skin protection; 71 percent didn't understand that SPF only describes how effective the sunscreen is against preventing sunburns, which is caused by UV-B radiation.
"A lot of people seem unsure about the definition of SPF, too," Kundu added. "Only 43 percent understood that if you apply SPF 30 sunscreen to skin 15 minutes before going outdoors, you can stay outside 30 times longer without getting a sunburn."
Ninety-three percent didn't understand that only broad spectrum sunscreens can protect against skin aging and 62 percent didn't understand that labeling terms on sunscreen could ultimately determine how much skin cancer protection might be received.