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Which? exposes inaccurate SPFs on popular sunscreens

By Leah Armstrong , 02-Jun-2009

UK consumer watchdog Which? has issued a report raising alarm over inconsistency in sunscreen industry guidelines.

Following its annual sunscreen test, it has found that many sunscreens have a lower SPF than the value printed on their label.

Four sunscreens labeled as SPF 15 appeared to provide much lower UVB protection. These included Tesco, Malibu and Marks and Spencer, whose SPF 15 products were found to only provide an SPF of 9.3 to 12.1. Each of these brands was also criticized last year.

Repeat on last year’s findings

This years Which? report echoes last year’s, which also concluded that top brand sunscreens did not provide the protection they claimed to. In fact, many of the same brands failed the test again this year.

Which? tests the UVB SPF of every sunscreen to strict international standards, using the test endorsed by EU recommendations on sunscreen labeling. Sunscreen is applied to a small test area on the backs of 12 volunteers who are exposed to UVB rays from a special lamp that stimulates sunlight and records when the skin turns red.

However, of the brands which performed badly in the test, the manufacturers maintain that their sunscreens abide by Colipa guidelines, the European Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association and in some cases provide even greater protection than that stated on their labels.

Inconsistent guidelines

Editor of Which? magazine, Martyn Hocking, told The Times, “Part of the problem is that industry guidelines on sunscreen testing from Colipa are open to differences in interpretation. Such loopholes mean that tests on the same sunscreen by different scientists could produce very different SPF results.”

The European Commission has already made efforts to simplify things, by introducing new labelling guidelines, which categorise sunscreen factor as ‘high’ or ‘low’ protection.

However, these guidelines are only recommendations and have not, as yet, been adopted by the industry. It is this lack of enforcement that has caused inconsistency in SPF results, according to Which?.

Although some of the sunscreens tested had lower SPF than advertised on their label, there were others which exceeded their SPF under Which? tests. Nivea Moisturising Sun lotion SPF 15 tested as 15.3 and Hawaiian Tropic protective sun lotion SPF15 recorded a 16.9 SPF.

Hocking said “We’re talking to manufacturers and Colipa to ensure that testing guidelines are reviewed as at the moment they are open to all sorts of interpretation. We want all people to be safe in the sun, and consumers need to have confidence that the label on their sunscreen is a good guide to the protection they’ll get”.

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