Using moisturiser with SPF instead of sunscreen may not protect skin

05 July 2018 - 15:13 By AFP Relaxnews
New research has found that using moisturiser with SPF in lieu of sunscreen may result in less than optimal coverage.
New research has found that using moisturiser with SPF in lieu of sunscreen may result in less than optimal coverage.
Image: iStock / Michaelpuche

New UK research has highlighted the importance of using proper sun protection finding that, given the way they tend to be applied, moisturisers with sun protection factor (SPF) provide less protection than the equivalent strength sunscreen.

Carried out by the University of Liverpool, the small-scale study recruited 14 men and 46 women aged 18 to 57 and asked them to apply sun protection to their face to see how effectively people apply products.

During one visit participants were asked to apply an SPF30 sunscreen, and on the second visit a moisturiser with SPF30. 

The researchers then took photos of the participants' faces with a specially modified camera that only sees UV light to assess how effectively people had applied the two products. When an area of the skin has been sufficiently covered, the product absorbs the UV light and this area then appears black in the photos. The lighter the area in the photo, then the less successful the absorption.

The researchers found that when applying moisturiser, the participants missed 16% of their face on average, however they were more effective at applying sunscreen, with this figure dropping to 11%.

The team also looked at just the eyelid areas, as it is a high-risk area and a common site for skin cancers, finding that here participants missed 14% of the area when using sunscreen compared with 21% with moisturiser. 

In addition to missing parts of the skin, the researchers also found that participants did not apply the moisturiser as thickly as sunscreen, reducing the effectiveness of the SPF in the moisturiser.

However, some people were better than others at applying the products, with the team finding, that on average, men were significantly better at applying them than women, as were people with darker skin tones, and older participants.

Mr Austin McCormick, one of the study's researchers, commented on the findings saying, "We expected the moisturiser to perform worse than the sunscreen on overall protection, as it seemed intuitive that people apply moisturiser quite thinly on the whole."

"Although moisturiser with SPF does provide sun protection, our research suggests that it's not on the same level as sunscreen. We would not recommend it as a like-for-like replacement for your sun protection needs."

Matthew Gass of the British Association of Dermatologists added, "Another important thing to take away from this research is that people often miss areas of their face when applying sun protection, a good way to prevent this from becoming an issue is to wear sunglasses and reapply sunscreen regularly. This should help protection the bits you miss from being exposed to excessive sun."

The results are to be presented at the British Association of Dermatologists' Annual Meeting taking place July 3 to 5 2018 in Edinburgh. More information about the study can also be found online.


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