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18 March 2022

Consumer NZ reveals only one product met SPF label claims in latest round of tests

Cancer Society Kids Pure Sun Lotion SPF50 was the only product that met its SPF label claim.

In a second batch of eight sunscreens tested by Consumer NZ, Cancer Society Kids Pure Sun Lotion SPF50 was the only product that met its SPF label claim.

Seven sunscreens provided high SPF protection (SPF30 or higher) but didn't meet their very high protection (SPF50+) label claim. To make a SPF50+ claim, a sunscreen must achieve an SPF of 60 or higher. All eight products met the requirements for broad-spectrum protection.

These sunscreens did not meet their very high protection (SPF50+) claim:

  • Woolworths Sunscreen Everyday Lotion SPF50+
  • Cancer Society Everyday Sun Lotion SPF50+
  • Invisible Zinc Sport Mineral Sunscreen SPF50+
  • Sun Bum Premium Moisturising Sunscreen Lotion SPF50+
  • Nivea Sun Kids Sensitive Sun Lotion SPF50+
  • Nivea Sun Protect & Moisture Sunscreen Lotion SPF50+
  • Banana Boat Simply Protect Kids Sunscreen Lotion SPF50+

Consumer NZ senior writer Belinda Castles said companies were asked to provide evidence to support label claims.

Countdown, The Cancer Society and the distributor of Invisible Zinc provided test results to support their products’ SPF50+ label claims. In Consumer NZ's 2020 sunscreen test, Cancer Society Everyday Sun Lotion SPF50+ met its label claim. The Cancer Society confirmed the formulation tested in these previous tests was the same as the batch tested by Consumer NZ.

“It's not uncommon for there to be variation between our test results and the reports provided by companies,” Castles said. “Companies are not required to regularly test their sunscreens to ensure different batches provide the claimed protection. Also, testing is conducted on humans so there will always be some variability, and storage conditions can play a part. Sunscreens deteriorate over time, especially if kept in hot places.”

Sun Bum provided a technical report to substantiate its SPF claim. However, the conclusion was based on a test result for a sunscreen with the same quantities of active ingredients, but different preservatives. Beiersdorf (the owner of Nivea) told us which labs their sunscreens were tested at but declined to provide the test reports or testing dates.

Banana Boat's distributor also declined to provide a test report. It said Banana Boat Simply Protect Kids Sunscreen Lotion SPF50+ had been discontinued and is unlikely to be widely available.

Consumer NZ published its first batch of sunscreen test results in December 2021. Six out of nine products met their SPF and broad-spectrum protection label claims.

Sunscreen regulation update

Earlier this month, the Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Act was passed into law. Under the new law, sunscreens will be regulated under the Fair Trading Act and it will be mandatory for products to meet the Australian and New Zealand sunscreen standard. Companies that breach the requirements may face fines of up to $600,000. The act comes into effect in September.  

Consumer NZ supports the act. Until now, the sunscreen standard has only been voluntary in New Zealand, and it was possible to sell a sunscreen that hadn’t undergone any efficacy testing.  

However, Castles said regulating sunscreens under the Fair Trading Act should be an interim measure only.

"Sunscreens should be regulated as a therapeutic product – not a cosmetic – to bring New Zealand protections in line with Australia,” she said. 

“Complying with the standard isn't enough. Sunscreens should be tested regularly to ensure different batches provide the claimed protection, which the standard doesn’t require.”

“Our latest round of test results highlights the need for more frequent testing. Companies shouldn’t be able to rely on tests that are several years old to support their label claims."  

Safer sunscreens campaign

Consumer NZ raised $55,000 through crowdfunding, courtesy of 1177 generous donors who contributed to a campaign to test more sunscreens. This meant we were able to test 11 more sunscreens. We're still waiting for our final batch of sunscreens to be tested, which are expected in April.

Find out more about our campaign.

Guide to SPF protection

No sunscreen blocks 100 percent of UV rays: SPF15 blocks 93 percent of UVB, SPF30 blocks 97 percent, and SPF50 blocks 98 percent.

Sun safety tips

  • A sunscreen is only part of your defence against UV radiation. You should cover up with suitable clothing (preferably UPF50+), a broad brimmed hat and UV protected sunglasses, and seek shade. When the sun’s rays are most intense, limit your time outside.
  • Look for sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or above, plus water resistance and broad-spectrum protection. The New Zealand Dermatological Society recommends SPF50+ for greater protection.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside.
  • Apply plenty – about two teaspoons for each leg, and one teaspoon for each arm, your back, your front and your face (which includes your neck and ears). That adds up to about 45ml – or nine teaspoons – for a full-body application.
  • Ignore “once-a-day” claims. Sunscreen should be reapplied often – every two hours you’re outside.
  • Mopping up sweat or towelling dry reduces protection, so apply another coat of sunscreen immediately.

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