The main problem with sunscreen

TGA has tested 31 commonly used sunscreens after concerns over the past summer that they weren’t providing enough protection

It found the main issue did not lie with the ingredients, but with consumers’ failure to use enough product and reapply it as appropriate.

After sourcing the sunscreens—including lotions, creams and aerosol sprays—from pharmacies and supermarkets and testing them, the TGA found all products tested contained the correct levels of ingredients, as specified on their labelling.

They all complied with the Australian regulatory guidelines for sunscreens for content of sun protection ingredients (90 to 120% of the labelled claim).

Concerns had also been raised about the use of aerosol spray products, so the TGA undertook preliminary testing to investigate their delivery rates.

“We found the amount of sunscreen delivered per second differed between brands,” the TGA says. “Given this, it is important consumers follow the labelling instructions to ‘apply liberally’ to ensure proper coverage of the sunscreen.”

The TGA’s findings suggest that complaints about lack of efficacy may be more due to consumers’ failure to use enough product and to reapply it as appropriate.

“With more than 24 million people in Australia there are many millions of applications of sunscreen each year and—given the widespread use—the rate of reported problems is low,” says the TGA.

“Between 1 January and 31 December 2016 the TGA received a total of 27 reports of adverse reactions to sunscreens. Of these 15 were reports of allergic reactions (rash) and 12 reports of a product not being effective.

“It is important for consumers to understand that sunscreen is only one of the protections people should take to protect themselves from sunburn and skin cancer, others include limited exposure to direct sun, proper clothing and shelter.

“The Cancer Council and medical colleges have emphasised the importance of applying sunscreens liberally and regularly, as these products are commonly under-applied.

“Topically applied sunscreens are also removed from the skin due to sweating, washing and being wiped by towel or clothing. Accordingly, they must be labelled with instructions to apply generously to the skin 20 minutes before skin exposure, then reapply frequently, and after swimming or towelling.”

As part of its ongoing review of all sunscreen products, the TGA plans more investigation into aerosol products.

The TGA has started an additional project to check the compliance of all sunscreens listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

It is planned that this review will check a representative sample of sunscreens supplied in Australia to ensure they are safe, of good quality and meet regulatory requirements.

The review will focus on sunscreen formulations, their manufacture and labelling, as well as other safety and quality aspects that can affect the safe use of sunscreens.

The TGA plans to publish a summary of the review outcomes at the completion of the project in late 2017.

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