There was a report in New Zealand’s Consumer magazine that revealed that many sunscreens did not live up to their claims. One sunscreen that claimed an SPF of 30 ended up with an SPF of 6 on independent testing!
The Consumer report called for more regulation. However, even in countries like Australia with more regulations -- where sunscreens have to be listed with the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Authority, the Australian equivalent the American FDA), a consumer report showed that many 50+ sunscreens simply didn’t live up to their claims.
This situation has been repeated by consumer studies in the UK and USA. As I said in a radio interview recently on the Mike Hosking show on NewstalkZB, testing methods vary between countries and given sunscreens are tested on humans -- and everyone knows that their skin behaves differently to others. And as a skin doctor, the challenge is in not in being a knowledgeable clinician, but in being able to understand the needs of each individual.
One of my concerns and recent research is to do with the use of anti-inflammatory agents in sunscreens. Such chemicals are often used to reduce skin reactions, but when used in sunscreens can mask redness, thereby affecting SPF test results. One of the methods of testing the SPF of sunscreens is calculating the MED (minimum erythema dose) or how good a sunscreen is in preventing redness after sun-exposure.
While the thinking is that many good sunscreens have anti-inflammatory agents and perhaps these don’t affect SPF test results, a major study showed that anti-inflammatory agents can indeed affect SPF test results. This means that someone may be using a sunscreen with a good SPF rating, but not receiving the expected sun-protection.
Another study showed that if you use poor quality sunscreen and spend 2 weeks on a holiday in the sun, it is the equivalent of using 10 sun-beds! We know that sunbed use increases melanoma, the deadly skin cancer, by 15%, and even more scarily, people who used a sunbed are 41% more likely to develop melanoma. Therefore, poor quality sunscreens could be literally killing you silently. 300-400 Kiwis die from melanoma each year, and in America deaths from melanoma are nearly 10,000 per year.
As a skin cancer academic, clinician and researcher, one of the main reasons I launched a mineral sunscreen out of my skincare research lab is because it contains no UV-absorbing chemicals or anti-inflammatory agents that can affect SPF test results. And we publish our SPF test results on our webpage, so you know exactly what you are getting!
As you enjoy a southern hemisphere summer full of sea, sand and sunshine with your family, be sun-safe and remember just sunscreen isn’t enough – don’t forget the Slip, Slop, Slap … Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a hat, Seek shade and Slide on some sunglasses while in the sun. Have fun!