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Woman applying sunscreen
2 April 2019

Sunscreen update

More sunscreens fail to offer the SPF protection they claim.

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 in a lab. 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.

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