Consumer NZ testing shows six out of 10 sunscreens aren't up to scratch

The latest round of Consumer NZ testing has revealed many sunscreens on New Zealand shelves aren't meeting their label claims.

The organisation's chief executive Sue Chetwin says six out of 10 products tested don't provide the sun protection claimed.

One product - Coola Classic Body Sunscreen Plumeria SPF30 - only gave protection of SPF6 in the testing, despite claiming high protection of SPF30.

The other five products are labelled as SPF50 or SPF50+, but Consumer NZ's test found they did not meet these claims, returning SPFs ranging from 16 to 42. 

"While these SPF ratings mean the sunscreens still provide moderate or high protection, our testing found they don't provide the protection claimed on the label," Chetwin says.

Banana Boat SunComfort Sunscreen Lotion only had an SPF of 17, despite claiming SPF50. Lab tests in Australia commissioned by Bannister Law last year showed Banana Boat was "seriously underperforming".

Only three of the 10 sunscreens met their SPF label claim and the requirements for broad-spectrum protection: Nivea Sun Kids Protect & Sensitive Sun Lotion SPF50, UV Guard Max Sunscreen SPF50 and Essone Natural Sunscreen Summer Coconut & Jojoba SPF30.

The sunblocks that performed well under testing.
The sunblocks that performed well under testing. Photo credit: Consumer NZ

Chetwin says four of the companies, including Coola, provided lab reports showing their products had been tested and met their label claims. However, two of the reports were conducted back in 2015 and Coola's report was from 2013. In response to the latest testing, Coola is commissioning a review of its formula.

In its 2017 round of testing, Consumer NZ found only nine of 20 sunscreens met their SPF label claims and requirements for broad-spectrum protection.

Chetwin says the lack of a mandatory standard meant sunscreens could be sold without undergoing any testing.

"New Zealand has one of the highest rates of skin cancer and melanoma in the world but the sunscreen standard remains voluntary," she says.

Consumer NZ will be testing 10 more sunscreens on Kiwi shelves in the coming months.

Sun safety tips

  • Look for sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30+, plus water resistance and broad-spectrum protection.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside.
  • Apply plenty  about one teaspoonful (5ml) for each arm, each leg, your back, your front and your face (which includes your neck and ears). That adds up to about 35ml for a full-body application.
  • Ignore "once-a-day" claims. Sunscreen should be reapplied often - every two hours you're outside.
  • Mopping up sweat or towelling dry reduces protection: apply another coat of sunscreen immediately.
  • A sunscreen is only one part of your defence. Cover up with suitable clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. When the sun's rays are most intense (between 10am and 4pm September to April or when the UV index is greater than three), it's also a good idea to limit your time in the sun.