You may have read reports of a survey on sunscreen products conducted by Which? Magazine. CTPA understands people might be alarmed by the claims being made by Which? that according to its testing some sunscreens might not match the SPF protection labelled on-pack and that 'extended wear' sunscreens should be avoided. We are also very concerned that consumers might take the Which? report at face value and might risk not using sunscreens properly or may miss the benefits that sunscreen, including 'extended wear' products, can bring.
'Extended wear' products
We all know that sunscreens need to be applied generously and re-applied frequently to maintain protection on our skin. However, for some people with active outdoor lifestyles, frequent reapplication can be difficult, but sunscreens remain an important part of their sunsafe regime. For example, people participating in outdoor sports or who work outdoors may not be able to re-apply sunscreen and there are also some people who would prefer not to have to re-apply frequently if possible.
To meet those needs, manufacturers with expertise in sun protection have spent many years developing products that provide the expected level of protection for the whole period of exposure claimed. 'Extended wear' sunscreens are formulated to stay on the skin longer while maintaining their sun protection. Manufacturers of 'extended wear' sunscreens will comply with the same safety and claim substantiation requirements as for traditional sunscreens and will have carried out robust testing to ensure the product will provide the expected level of protection during use.
Dr Chris Flower, Director-General of CTPA, explains:
"Which? has set up its test for 'extended wear' products very strangely. Manufacturers test products in circumstances related to normal or expected use. We normally apply sunscreen to areas of skin that will be exposed to the sun but we don't apply sunscreen to areas that will remain covered under clothes. Exposed areas will not be subject to rubbing against a t-shirt for six to eight hours, so we feel this is unrealistic as a test and we believe the criticisms from Which? are not justified.
"Extended wear sunscreens are valuable for people with an active outdoor lifestyle for whom re-application of sunscreen is difficult or impossible. Careful formulation and extensive testing by the manufacturers ensure that we can be confident of the SPF labelling for both 'extended wear' and traditional sunscreens."
However, as with all sunscreens, 'extended wear' products are not meant to be used to stay longer in the sun but to provide protection where sun exposure cannot be avoided. Remember, it is important to follow the instructions for application to ensure you get the expected level of protection.
Strict safety laws
It is important to remember that sunscreens are covered by strict European cosmetic laws, which ensure they are safe for people to use and enjoy. Not only are they are thoroughly assessed for safety but any claim made, including SPF, UVA protection and 'extended wear', have to be substantiated. This takes robust data which is open to scrutiny by the regulating bodies. So products have to do what they say they do.
How can we be confident in the labelled sun protection (SPF and UVA)?
Dr Chris Flower, Former Director-General of CTPA, explains:
"Sunscreens are carefully and thoroughly tested before being sold. When creating a sunscreen, companies decide what level of SPF they want in the product. Scientists with expert suncare knowledge will use their wealth of experience and expertise to know the UV filters they want to use and how much is needed to formulate a product with the intended SPF and UVA protection. During development the product is tested by scientists a number of times using specialist equipment and sometimes human volunteers to check the SPF is consistently on track. If at any stage during the process the SPF isn't correct, then the product will not be taken any further. If the development tests all confirm the required SPF, then the product will go on to have final SPF testing on human volunteers. Which? was not able to follow all of this testing process. It bases the results of the sunscreen report just on final SPF testing and even admits it gets variable results. Not only is this bad science, but is why the claims Which? makes about wrongly labelled SPF numbers cannot be trusted."
International standardised test
To find out how a product will work on varying skin-types, a sunscreen has to be tested on a range of people using the same test, which is recognised in the UK and internationally. To help minimise any possible variations, the test is standardised by applying the same amount of product to a measured area of skin, on a number of people who are exposed to a specific amount of sunlight. The reaction of their skin is then assessed. This test provides an SPF number. Even so, there are always likely to be some variations in these test results because they're conducted by humans and on human volunteers; and we are all biologically different.
A separate standardised test is performed to ensure the UVA protection has been achieved.
That is why companies don't rely solely on the final SPF testing results to label the SPF.
The SPF test result from the final human testing should be checked against the information collected during product development to see if they match. If they don't match, this should ring alarm bells about the accuracy of the final SPF test result, because so much data already exist to prove that the SPF number is right. Companies will only sell the product when the whole package of development test data and the final human SPF test result match. They would not risk their reputation or the health of their customers by mislabelling sunscreens.
This robust development and testing process is what companies go through before they label their product and put it on the shelf. The process is time consuming, meticulous and incredibly important, because if you haven't undertaken all of this testing you can't be sure that the SPF test result is correct. This complete process is the best way to be sure that the SPF number on the product is right. Put simply, if you don't do it all, you cannot trust the final test result.
A sunsafe regime
Today's sunscreen products have been developed to help protect the skin against the damaging rays of the sun as just one part of a sunsafe regime, along with wearing protective clothing and sunglasses and seeking the shade whenever possible, especially when the sun is at its most intense during the middle of the day.
We should choose a sunscreen with an SPF suitable for our skin type (the indication of the product to protect against sunburn) and which also contains protection against UVA rays (which can speed up the ageing process). On the product label, UVA protection will be indicated with the letters 'UVA' in a circle.
People can be confident in using sunscreens because they have been developed by scientists with expert suncare knowledge. Companies want people to be happy with their sun products and buy them again.
A wide range is available to suit all pockets and preferences to help millions of people stay safe in the sun, but it is important to always follow the product instructions for best protection and we should never use sunscreens to stay longer in the sun.