Consumer Magazine has been bringing sunscreen testing to the public attention with a call for a mandatory sunscreen standard and a regular re-testing regime.

It’s time the government made the Australian and New Zealand standard mandatory. The current situation where compliance is voluntary isn’t good enough for a country with one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

Companies should be testing each new formulation of a product, especially if it contains different active ingredients. They should also regularly test their products to ensure different batches still meet their label claims.

We agree.

In NZ, the ASNZ 2604:2012 standard is a voluntary one. Having said that, most mainstream sunscreens already test to this standard.  

If that’s the case, why are so many of the sunscreens failing on their SPF testing?

The ASNZ 2604: 2012 standard actually requires re-testing on any formulation change that could affect performance. A sunscreen company might not re-test with what it considers a minor formulation change, but which could have major effects on performance.

There seems to be confusion about the difference between SPF 50 and SPF 50+. You can only claim SPF 50+ if your test results come in above SPF 60. For results between SPF 50 and SPF 59 a sunscreen label must be SPF 50.

Also, there is an issue of time on shelf. Many sunscreens are not re-tested after being in a tube for 12, 18 or 24 months. 

Chemical absorbers are vulnerable to degradation over time, so how a product ages in the tube on the shelf is really important.

Mineral sunscreen agents like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide don’t degrade over time, but the trick with these ingredients is keeping them smoothly mixed. They are heavy ingredients with a tendency to clump and sink. They also oxidise the other ingredients in the formula when exposed to heat and air. Again, over time, this can mean a change in the performance of the sunscreen.

We agree that re-testing is critical for sunscreens. Small formula changes can have large consequences. It’s also important to re-test batches as they age. An indicative test of three people ensures performance.

Sun Balm Test Results

Goodbye OUCH Sun Balm is a brand new product, but to give us complete confidence in the product, we tested it through twice at two different performance points. These were completed between May and July 2018. A complete test with 10 people with sunscreen applied and then skin in water for 2 hours and then tested for SPF yielded an average above 50 SPF. A second complete test with a different 10 people had sunscreen applied, with their skin immersed in water for 4 hours. Their average test results yielded  above 40SPF.  

As importantly, and as part of the standard, we tested for critical wavelength, which is the UVA or part of the broad spectrum coverage in a sunscreen. ASNZ 2604: 2012 has the highest requirement for Broad Spectrum coverage in the world. It not only requires that the skin is protected at a certain spectrum of UVA, but that it is balanced to the coverage of the UVB.  Sun Balm passes this critical wavelength test.

The lab that we use is Dermatest, a highly regarded leader in the sunscreen testing space.

Consumer has been able to bring a long needed conversation about sunscreen to New Zealand. It’s important that this space is used to raise the industry standard and consumer knowledge and confidence in sunscreen products.  To be able to have a positive impact on the industry, we would welcome Consumer bringing more transparency on how it chooses, tests and reports sunscreens.  We are concerned about their decanting, and chain of custody of sunscreen samples. Sending anonymous samples to labs opens the product up to tampering, mislabeling and oxidation issues.

High compliance and reliability in SPF labelling is a good beginning. An understanding of Broad Spectrum and testing critical wavelength is also key. However, with marine toxicity issues, and oxidative stress studies on certain UV absorbing ingredients, the landscape for what makes a good, reliable sunscreen is broader than the standard.