In late 2015, Choice – Australia’s consumer watchdog – analysed available SPF 50+ sunscreens for their efficacy. Most, Choice said, didn’t live up to expectations or claims, which means you are not being as well-protected as you might think.
The main issue, Choice concedes, is that different labs come up with different answers, so it seems the process of testing is somewhat flawed. Despite that, protection may not be as claimed, despite testing prior to release on the market.
Australians have high skin cancer rates compared to the rest of the world, largely due to a lack of protective ozone above us. This is the impact of global warming and pollution carried this way by trade winds from Asia, particularly from heavy polluter China. Anyone who has summered in Europe can attest to a lack of skin burning there, that we feel very quickly here in Australia and New Zealand.
Sunscreen in Australia
Sunscreen is considered to be a cosmetic product in Australia, and is therefore required to be listed with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). To be listed, manufacturers must test the product according to Australian standards for its SPF – sun protection factor.
We always thought we could rely on this – we have high standards, right? – but Choice has discovered that many sunscreen brands do not fit the criteria and do not offer as much protection as claimed.
Out of six SPF 50+ sunscreens tested, four failed
The sunscreens tested – all claiming to be SPF 50+ – ranged from SPF 50 all the way down to the lowest, SPF 29. Price was not always an indicator, with the SPF 29 sunscreen being the cheapest, but another sunscreen that clocked SPF 42 being double that.
The top two
Fortunately, paying more – lots more – does mean a better product in this instance. The best-ranking sunscreens were both the most expensive per 100ml: the Cancer Council Classic 50+ came in at $10.39 while Nivea Sun Kids SPF50+ (roll on) was $16.90.
Thankfully, basically all products tested hit around the SPF 30 mark, which is still a high SPF rating.
Water resistance – is it really true?
Turns out, no, it’s not always true. Many sunscreens claim four hours of water resistance, but when tested, the SPF went down considerably much sooner than this.
Why the differences?
There are many reasons why the results may be different from what the manufacturer claimed. As far as manufacturers are concerned, every test was – to the best of their knowledge – correct, and remains correct. Labs often end up with different results through different testing methods, batches may ‘go bad’, sunscreen ‘gets old’ and deteriorates over time, and perhaps other manufacturing faults that are not picked up.
Take-home points to stay skin-coloured under the burning sun
- Sunscreen deteriorates over time and – ironically – in high temperatures, so always buy your sunscreen with at least two years until expiry from a shop that has high sunscreen turnover, like a supermarket or big pharmacy, and don’t store it in the car on a hot day
- Use the right amount – two tablespoons should cover a whole adult body
- Let the sunscreen dry on your body before you go into the sun – that means 15-30 minutes prior to going outside
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours
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