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Sunscreen testing results confuse

Consumer NZ is concerned at the variability of results produced at sunscreen testing labs and is calling for annual testing of sunscreen products and auditing of labs.

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Consumer NZ has just tested a range of sunscreens, including children’s products. In its test, 8 products failed either the SPF (sun protection factor) or broad-spectrum tests.

However, Consumer NZ CEO Sue Chetwin said most of the affected companies were able to produce evidence to Consumer’s satisfaction that their sunscreens did meet their claims.

“What it highlighted was major issues in sunscreen testing. For consumers to have faith in sunscreen products, health authorities need to deal with this issue. We’d like to see annual tests of products and annual auditing of test labs.”

Dermatest, which carried out Consumer’s testing, said it wasn’t surprised by the findings. It said variability can occur between lab batches used for determining SPF and the manufactured batches for sale, especially for products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, where the active ingredients might not be dispersed consistently throughout the product. The lab said the grade of zinc could change over time, which could also affect the SPF and broad spectrum figures.

Chetwin said one of the test certificates provided by a company was dated 2009 and there is no requirement companies carry out regular testing on their products to confirm they still meet their label claims.

A further issue for Kiwi consumers is sunscreens here are classified as cosmetics, which means they don’t require approval before they can be sold. Companies are encouraged to sell sunscreens that comply with the Australian and New Zealand standard. But products that meet standards in the EU or US are permitted. What’s more, sunscreens that don’t meet any standard can legally be sold here.

Consumer reckons making sunscreens a therapeutic product (as they are in Australia) and ensuring they meet the Australian-New Zealand standard should be a priority.

For more information, see Consumer's sunscreens article.

Sunscreen tips

  • Look for sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30+, plus water resistance and broad-spectrum protection
  • Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going out in the sun
  • Apply plenty – about one teaspoonful for each arm, leg, back front and face (35mls for a full body application)
  • Mopping up sweat or towelling dry will reduce your protection – apply another coat straightaway
  • Sunscreen is only one part of your defence against harmful UV rays. Limit your time in the sun and wear cover-up clothing.
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