In 2015, the Minnesota State Fair put up free sunscreen dispensers. Anyone could walk up, get some, and slather it on.
Turns out there were also people watching you rub the lotion in – not in a creepy way, but as part of a study.
Dr. Ingrid Polcari with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Dermatology is one of the authors of the study (published Tuesday), which looked at who got the free sunscreen when they opted for some, and how they used it.
Over the 93 hours they observed, they recorded 2,187 people use the free SPF30 lotion. But most of them didn’t use it well.
“These results highlight some of the ways people use sunscreen incorrectly,” Polcari said in a news release. “To get the best possible sun protection, it’s important to wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, and to apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, not just your face and arms.”
Only one-third applied the sunscreen to all exposed areas of their skin. The remaining two-thirds usually covered their arms and face, but rarely their chest or legs/feet.
In addition, when it was a cloudy day, people tended not to come get the sunscreen as often – even though levels of ultraviolet (the rays that cause sunburns) were still dangerously high. Polcari noted up to 80 percent of harmful UV rays can reach your skin even when it’s cloudy. The study says it’s clear more education needs to be done about that.
And about 57 percent of all the people observed using sunscreen were women. About 1.7 million total visitors went to the State Fair that year.
The free sunscreen was provided by Vanicream, and the entire thing was done in partnership with the Masonic Cancer Center and University of Minnesota. The free sunscreen returned in 2016 as well.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. It was spearheaded by Dr. Megan Wood Hellfeld, who is now a physician at the University of California San Diego.
Sunscreen and cancer
Melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, and the Melanoma Research Foundation says getting exposed to too many UV rays is thought to be the main cause of the disease. The number of melanoma cases has been rising in recent decades as well, the Environmental Working Group notes.
The research foundation says sunscreen helps pretty significantly, but you can do more: stay out of the sun more, and wear clothing that covers your skin.
Dermatologist Dr. Darrell Rigel in the study’s news release offered a few sunscreen suggestions: Go for SPF30 or higher, look for the term “broad spectrum” since it will block more UV rays, opt for water resistant sunscreen, and look for the ingredient zinc oxide or titanium dioxide if you have sensitive skin.