This week Which? Magazine has published a feature about sunscreens, covering several aspects of sun protection.
CTPA welcomes Which?'s messages promoting the important role that sunscreens play as part of sun protection, however we have concerns that the negative claims could cause consumers to avoid sunscreens and put their health at risk. Sunscreens are highly regulated and rigorously, repeatedly scientifically tested. They are a critical part of a safe sun regimen, helping protect the skin against the harmful effects of the sun's rays, including skin cancer. Results* from Cancer Research UK last year highlighted that UV radiation is the third biggest contributor to cancer cases in the UK. It is well known that over-exposure to the sun can be harmful. Leading authorities, including Cancer Research UK, the Department of Health and the British Association of Dermatologists, recommend the use of sunscreens as part of 'sun safe' behaviour.
Dr Emma Meredith, a pharmacist and Director-General of CTPA, said:
"Sun protection is a subject very close to my heart and, like Which? and the sunscreen industry, I want to promote sunsafe behaviour. Sunscreens are covered by strict safety laws and are developed and tested by scientists with expert suncare knowledge. The rigorous development process and repeat testing that companies undertake mean we can be confident that the sunscreen we use will deliver the expected protection, while of course always taking care to follow the instructions on the label. We can trust in the SPF and UVA protection on the pack."
"Sunscreens are an important part of staying sunsafe, along with seeking shade between the sun's peak hours and covering up with clothing. It is very important to follow the instructions for use and application. Sunscreen should never be used to spend more time in the sun, and the SPF number should never be used to 'calculate' how long we can stay in the sun without burning. NHS England and Cancer Research UK share CTPA's advice on this."
We would like to reiterate key messages about the safety and efficacy of sun protection products and clarify some of the scientific inaccuracies in the Which? article:
Sunscreens must adhere to strict legislation that not only requires them to be safe but also they have to deliver the protection that they claim to provide. The cosmetics law also requires the manufacture of sunscreens adheres to strict protocols to ensure consistency. Companies also put in place procedures to ensure that batches of product retain the same quality and that product performance, from batch to batch, remains consistent and reliable.
Everyone reacts to the sun in their own way. Some people's skin is affected more by the sun's harmful rays than others. The SPF of a sunscreen it is measured by testing it in a standard way on a range of people to take this into account. This international standardised test provides an SPF number. The SPF number is a measure of relative performance between different products if all other conditions are the same.
A sunscreen manufacturer cannot and does not make an SPF claim based on the findings from one laboratory. Instead, a whole body of evidence from repeat testing throughout the sunscreen's development must be supplied to prove any claim. If at any stage during the process the SPF isn't correct, then the product will not be taken any further.
It is important that we use our sunscreens as directed on-pack, as one part of sunsafe behaviour, and apply the amount instructed to achieve the expected level of protection.
Which? states that "when manufacturers have shared test data with us, in some cases it has been years old". Sound science does not have a sell-by date. The testing data remain reliable because the sunscreen formulation and the test methodology have not changed. The product is as safe and the results as reliable as it was when it was first tested.
SPF numbers are accompanied on-pack by a category descriptor (low, medium, high or very high) to help consumers pick the right product for their skin. The Which? article suggests that " the protection provided at any SPF can vary substantially between products - and there's no way for you to tell where in the spectrum your sunscreen falls". We would like to reassure consumers that the category names and the SPF numbers that equate to that protection band have been carefully set by the European Commission. For example, an SPF 30 will never be labelled as 'Low' protection as it will always offer 'High' protection.
Any claim made by a cosmetic product, including a sunscreen, such as SPF, UVA protection and water resistance, must be substantiated by robust information. The thorough testing used to make these claims ensure they work as labelled.
We would like to explain more about the efficacy of durable ('once-a-day') sunscreens, that Which? calls into question. These types of sunscreens are scientifically developed to ensure they stay longer on the skin than a conventional sun cream. They are useful for people who can't avoid extended sun exposure or who are not able to reapply as is normally recommended, and they are underpinned by robust testing and evidence. As with any sun protection product, the instructions for use and application must be followed and they should not be used to extend time in the sun.
For more information on the sound science behind sunscreens and advice for staying safe in the sun, visit the sun protection pages on thefactsabout.
*The fraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom in 2015 Katrina F. Brown et al. British Journal of Cancer (2018)