Sunscreen application technique in photosensitive patients: a quantitative assessment of the effect of education
Photosensitive patients are known to apply insufficient sunscreen and to neglect several prominently exposed skin sites. The aim of this study was to use fluorescence spectroscopy to assess the effect of education on sunscreen application technique in the short and longer term. Six patients with longstanding photosensitivity conditions were asked to apply an intrinsically fluorescent sunscreen to exposed skin, as they normally would on a sunny day. Detailed fluorescence measurements were taken from 70 sites on the head, neck and arms. Using the previously established dose-response relationship for cream fluorescence, measurements were converted to equivalent thicknesses of cream. Patients were told the results of their sunscreen application assessment and deficiencies in technique were highlighted. Following education, application technique was reassessed twice, after intervals of 2 weeks and 6 months. Before education, sunscreen application was poor with inadequate amounts applied, and prominently exposed sites including ears, temples and neck often missed. At 2 weeks following education, improved application was seen at all sites, and the improvement was sustained at 6 months. Overall, education improved sunscreen application from a baseline median sunscreen thickness of 0.11 mg/cm2 to 0.82 mg/cm2 at 2 weeks and 1.13 mg/cm2 at 6 months (P<0.0001). Notably, median sunscreen thickness on the face improved from a baseline of 0.33 mg/cm2 to 1.51 mg/cm2 at 6 months. These findings demonstrate the importance of careful instruction to patients concerning sunscreen application technique; failure to do this may result in overconfidence in the ability of a sunscreen to protect. The next step is to assess a larger number of photosensitive patients with different diagnoses and to see whether improved technique correlates with improvement in clinical features.