You may have read reports in the media of the latest Which? sunscreen survey that has recommended two sun protection products as 'Don't buys' after its testing. We understand that this might cause alarm for the many millions of us who use sunscreens as part of our sun safe regime. However, sun protection products are one of the most studied and tested of all cosmetic products and CTPA is extremely disappointed with the view Which? has taken of these products. The manufacturers involved have supplied robust data supporting their on-pack SPF 30 claims, but these have been ignored by Which? This is unfair and could jeopardise the confidence we have in our sunscreens.
What the article says
Which? tested a range of sunscreens that were labelled with SPF 30 (the SPF or Sun Protection Factor 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 two products had 'failed' their tests.
Why CTPA disputes Which?'s claims
An SPF rating is not based on a single study alone but on a body of evidence to augment the results of a standardised test.
In using the British Standard test methods for SPF and UVA protection, Which? will have been following the same process and criteria as the manufacturers. However, Which? tested products taken from shelf or provided by the manufacturer just the once, or maybe twice. It is important to stress that these manufacturers have not based their SPF rating on just one test result, but on a whole package of supportive information.
That package is obtained throughout the whole product development process and must be consistent to ensure full confidence the sunscreen will deliver the SPF promised. However, in some instances we understand the Which? results showed a level of variability, and therefore unreliability, that would be unacceptable to any company with expertise in this field.
Why we can trust the on-pack protection
Sunscreens are developed by teams of scientists and when a sunscreen is to be developed, the company will decide what SPF it wants to provide. Cosmetic formulators will know the UV filters to use and how much is needed to achieve the intended SPF and UVA protection. An initial SPF calculation will be performed to check the formula will deliver, and additional checks through testing will be carried out during further product development.
Prior to full-scale manufacture, the product will be tested for the actual SPF number using the standard SPF test method. The UVA protection test carried out at this time will also indicate the SPF of the product as well as the UVA protection level.
So the final SPF number is one that has been anticipated right from the beginning and has been confirmed throughout the development process. If at any stage of the process the results were not consistent with what was expected, then re-testing and analysis would be performed and any necessary reformulation would take place.
You can therefore understand CTPA's concern when Which? has said that a product's SPF is not correct based on one (or two) test results on a single product, when the company has a much more substantial body of evidence to support the on-pack SPF.
This has been explained to Which? and the manufacturers of the products called into question by Which? have shared their data supporting the on-pack SPF of 30.
Dr Chris Flower, a Chartered Biologist and toxicologist and Director-General of the CTPA, explains why we can be confident in the on-pack SPF and UVA protection.