Sunscreen update

More sunscreens fail to offer the SPF protection they claim.

Woman applying sunscreen

As a result of our testing, one sunscreen has been removed from sale. Three more sunscreens failed to meet SPF label claims or provided only low protection.

Marketed as “natural” products, Five Elements Sunscreen SPF30 and Back To The Wild Natural Sunscreen only provided low sun protection (SPF of 4 to 14) in our test.

Five Elements claimed an SPF of 30 (high protection) but had an SPF of 7. The manufacturer couldn’t provide test evidence to support its label claim and has stopped selling this product.

Back To The Wild had a tested SPF of 12. It didn’t claim an SPF rating and had no ingredients list, batch code or date marking. Back To The Wild had not tested its product on humans. It said new labels contain ingredients, batch number and a best-before date, but it won’t be adding an SPF.

In our test, EK Kawakawa & Tamanu Certified Natural Sun Protection SPF50+ provided high protection, but not the very high protection it claims. The company provided us with a 10-subject test report from the lab we use, which showed the sunscreen met its SPF50+ claim.

The difference was that EK tested the product’s SPF after being exposed to water, to support its water-resistance claim. Our test didn’t assess water resistance.

It’s unusual for a sunscreen to have a higher SPF after being in water. We conducted further testing and found this sunscreen absorbed water, which resulted in the higher post-immersion SPF. This can happen as the film on the skin swells.

We think sunscreens should be able to meet SPF label claims before being exposed to water, as well as meeting any water resistance claims. EK said it would change the label claim on future batches to SPF50.

We also tested Alba Botanica Sensitive Fragrance Free Sunscreen SPF30. Despite claiming an SPF30, it only provided moderate protection (SPF20). The company didn’t provide evidence to support its claim.

That’s a wrap on our latest round of sunscreen testing. Of the 19 products we tested, only four met SPF claims. As a result, we’ll be making a complaint to the Commerce Commission. In April, we’ll also be making a submission on the Ministry of Health’s therapeutic products review and calling for the sunscreen standard to be mandatory.

Our test

Our accredited lab tested the sunscreens following the methods in the Australian and New Zealand standard AS/NZS 2604:2012. Our samples were sent “blind” to the lab and packed according to its instructions.

Member comments

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Steve & Susie I.
16 Aug 2019
Lupus flare - I need to know the SPF is accurate

It's really important for me that the sunscreen I apply (everyday) will do the job claimed on the label. UV rays trigger lupus flares, which can be very limiting, make you feel miserable and increase the medications you need to take. (And that assumes that the flare doesn't then progress into major organ involvement).

I'm not convinced that the big-name skincare brand sunscreen SPF 50 or big-name skincare brand (different brand) moisturiser I have been using have given the protection claimed on the label, and I am currently trying to fight off a flare. So I am now researching for a really trustworthy sunscreen that is suitable for my face that can help keep me well. It is very difficult to find this information.

I don't know if deficient sunscreen is the culprit for my latest flare; I've tried to apply it generously but maybe it is my fault or maybe it is just one of those things that can happen with an unpredictable illness. Without confidence in the product labelling it is very difficult to pinpoint so Consumer advocating this issue is very important.

Sunscreen is well documented in medical literature as a critical means of keeping well when you have lupus. This 2018 literature review by the British Society for Rhematology https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article/57/1/e1/4318863
demonstrates how important and the quality of evidence that supports its use.

Maureen V.
15 Apr 2019
Rawleigh Sun and insect Screen

Bought this product because of the well established name. However no rating on the tube nor could I find an answer on line. Anyone else used it?

Samantha B.
13 Apr 2019
My Sunshine

Hi. I am also interested to see the test results for Frankie apothecary as well as my current favourite, My Sunshine, which is natural and also made in NZ.

Annie
13 Apr 2019
Best sunscreen we've ever used

Just wondering if you've tested Frankie Apothecary's kawkawa sunscreen (a NZ product independently verifed as 50+ SPF)? We love it. It's white when you first put it on but is quickly absorbed into your skin. I use it as foundation in summer as it evens out my skin tone and gives my face a lovely glow! It's the only sunscreen that doesn't irritate the littlies' skin - and we've tried lots.

https://frankieapothecary.com/

Consumer staff
15 Apr 2019
Re: Best sunscreen we've ever used

Hi Annie,

I've passed your message onto our research team. Thank you for the suggestion.

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff