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26-01-2012 | Article

Children apply sunscreen too thinly


Free abstract

MedWire News: Children must be encouraged to apply sunscreen more thickly in order to gain full protection from the sun's harmful rays, Australian experts say.

Their advice is based on research that found that children typically apply sunscreen much more thinly than is recommended by the government and manufacturers.

Certain types of dispensers make it easier to apply a sufficiently thick layer of sunscreen, the researchers add.

For the study, Dr Abbey Diaz (Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Australia) and colleagues recruited 103 children from primary schools. The children were asked to apply sunscreen each morning before school for 3 consecutive weeks.

In the first week the children used sunscreen with a pump-action dispenser; in the second week they used a standard "squeeze" bottle; and in the third week they used a roll-on dispenser.

Each day, Dr Diaz's team calculated the thickness of sunscreen each child had applied.

The recommended amount of sunscreen that should be applied each day is 2 mg/cm2, say Dr Diaz and colleagues, as this results in a layer as thick as that used for testing sunscreen during development in the laboratory.

The study found that the average amount of sunscreen applied by the children was just 0.48 mg/cm2 - less than one-quarter of the recommended amount.

Encouragingly, however, the amount was much higher when using the pump applicator, with an average thickness of 0.75 mg/cm2.

Meanwhile, children using the roll-on dispenser tended to apply barely any sunscreen at all - the average thickness was 0.22 mg/cm2, or less than one-eighth of the recommended amount.

Commenting on their findings, Dr Diaz and team say that applying sunscreen at the recommended thickness is "infeasible" but nevertheless believe that "there is room for improvement."

They add: "Educational interventions are needed to maximize the protection received from sunscreen, along with enhanced availability of sunscreens that are highly accepted, easily dispensed, and encourage uniform coverage of sunscreen at greater thickness.

"Our results highlight the need for continued recommendations that sunscreens should be combined with other forms of sun protection, such as hats, clothing, and shade, to achieve optimal [ultraviolet] protection."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Joanna Lyford