You may read reports in the media about a new Which? Magazine article that suggests some sunscreens do not provide the sun protection factor (SPF) labelled on-pack. CTPA is disappointed by the way Which? has reported this information and is concerned that consumers could be misled and lose confidence in their trusted sun protection products, which can form part of a sunsafe regime.
Dr Emma Merrdith, Director-General of the CTPA, says:
"All claims must by law be supported by adequate and appropriate evidence. For SPF claims, this will include a standardised test, such as the one carried out by Which?, and an extensive body of other evidence gathered while the scientists were formulating the products. It is the combination of all of this research that underpins the SPF of the final product and supports the value claimed, as opposed to any one test in isolation."
Dr Meredith continued:
"Sun protection products must be thoroughly studied and tested because they are used to play a vital role in sun safety. Sun protection is an important public health issue; consumers should be using sun protection products confident that the claims made on-pack are supported by robust evidence."
What the article says
Which? tested a range of sun protection products that were labelled with SPF 30 (the SPF number indicates the product's protection against the sun's UVB rays). While we are pleased to see that Which? says their test results matched those of the on-pack SPF in the majority of the products, Which? reported that three products had 'failed' their tests. This is despite the manufacturers of these products stating they have the data to support the labelled SPF 30 claim.
Why we can trust product claims
It is important to remember that companies will have used the standard test methods to determine SPF as used by Which? and will have results from such tests to support their SPF claims. However, they do not just base their SPF labelling solely on those test results. Companies incorporate a number of additional checks and tests within the product development programme to build up a picture of whether the product being developed is behaving consistently and with a degree of predictability. A company does not want to base its claim on a single study where there may be a risk of over or under assessment of performance.
There is a legal obligation, under strict European cosmetics laws, for companies to make sure any claim made by a product is substantiated. We feel it is therefore unfair for Which? to suggest that a product is not performing adequately on the basis of its own tests, which were not intended to be as extensive as those carried out by manufacturers. The companies involved are able to substantiate the SPF claims they are making to the satisfaction of both the cosmetics legislation and the Advertising Standards Authority on the basis of much more extensive data. CTPA wrote to Which? to express this concern.
Staying safe in the sun
Sun protection is extremely important and sunscreens are just one part of this, and the Which? article provides very useful information about sun protection and staying safe in the sun.
Wearing loose-fitting clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses; seeking shade, particularly between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is usually at its most intense; drinking plenty of water; taking extra care to keep babies out of the sun; and using sunscreen - applying about a 'golf ball' size amount, or at least six teaspoonsful, of product to the exposed parts of the body 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun and re-applying every couple of hours are all good sunsafe practices.
It is important for us to use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The SPF number indicates the protection against UVB light and to show that a product has achieved an advised minimum level of UVA protection, it will be labelled with the symbol 'UVA' in a circle. We also need to choose a product that suits our skin type, but the minimum recommended is a product with UVA protection and with an SPF 15. However sunscreens should never be used to stay longer in the sun.
There is a wide range of sunscreen products available to accommodate various lifestyles and budgets. Just because a product is cheaper does not mean that it will work less effectively than a more expensive product claiming the same level of protection. Something that is also highlighted by the Which? article. It is important though that sunscreens are bought from a reputable retail outlet.
Confused by all the symbols? Read more about understanding your label.