(WTNH)  If there’s one thing TV stations have covered quite thoroughly on the news over the last 20 years or so, it’s the need to use sunscreen to prevent dangerous sunburns, premature skin aging,  and a higher risk of skin cancer.

Apparently it was all a big old waste of time.  A series of new studies out the last few weeks on both sides of the Atlantic show most people still don’t have the proverbial clue how sunscreen works, which sunscreens protect against which dangers, and how to read the labels so you can tell this from that from the other. So here’s a list of some of the complicating factors involving sunscreen use and misuse, along with what I hope will be clarifying comments:

1) A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology last week found that few people understand the difference between ultraviolet-B rays — which are related to sunburn and skin cancer — and ultraviolet-A rays. UVA does not cause sunburn, but leads to skin darkening and aging, and…..wait for it…also causes skin cancer.  Making it that much weirder is the fact that…..

2) SPF, the thing most people think is the only relevant factor in measuring protection, doesn’t pertain to UVA rays! UVA rays point and laugh at SPF!…which, by the way….

3) we’re really not that smart about after all.  Only 43% of people surveyed understood what SPF stands for: Sun Protection Factor.

4) So dermatologists recommend using sunscreens that are labeled “broad spectrum” because that means they offer protection against both UVB and UVA rays.  Unfortunately, the JAMA survey showed only 34% of people had the faintest idea what “broad spectrum” means, and few sunscreen brands actually offer it. Shouldn’t all sunscreens be broad spectrum, if that’s what…you know…works?

5) British people don’t get it either.  A new report out today from the Royal Pharmaceutical Survey found that 80% of Brits surveyed don’t get the whole UVA/UVB thing.  Yes, I know they don’t get as much sun there, but considering they are a pinkish and pasty people to begin with, I’d say it’s all even.

6) The RPS is therefore calling on a simplification of sun protection labeling, with descriptions of protection levels such as low, medium, high, and very high.

7)  Another disheartening study, from the Environmental Working Group, found that four out of five of the thousands of SPF products don’t work properly in the first place. Soooooooo….

8) Go with zinc oxide or titanium oxide.  They physically, not chemically, block everything.  Tough to spread over your entire body, though, and people will make sport of you if you try.  Try something less noticeable on the beach.  Maybe a burka.

Or just pray for rain.