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Sun bathers cautioned on claims and protection factor of sunscreenproducts - CHOICE # 381

  • 2008.07.15

Many sunscreen products in the Hong Kong market bear sweeping claims of total sun protection.

This was brought to light in a Consumer Council survey of sunscreen products focusing on the product claims and usage instructions.

Amongst a sample of 28 sunscreen products were found a myriad of claims in Chinese suggesting: "sunblock", "total sunblock", "block UVA and UVB", "immediate and long-term protection from UVA and UVB", "complete insulation from UVA and UVB", etc.

In Europe, claims such as "100% protection from UV radiation", "sunblock", "total protection" and "all day prevention" on sunscreen products are now being phased out by the latest recommendation of the European Union Commission.

Similar restriction does not currently exist outside of the EU nor in the US, Japan or in Hong Kong.

Many of the products covered in the survey are not originated in Europe but from countries such as Indonesia, Canada, Japan and the US. Some products gave no information whatsoever of their country of origin.

In the choice and use of sunscreen products, many consumers may seem to have a number of misconceptions that could give rise to a false sense of security in relying totally on sunscreen products to protect their health against harmful UV radiation of the sun.

The higher the SPF (sun protection factor) value of the product the more the protection, therefore many consumers tend to choose products with the highest possible SPF value.

It came therefore as no surprise that the SPF values of some half of the samples were SPF40 or above. 3 were as high as SPF80 or above; some claimed to be suitable for daily use.

The truth is that no sunscreen products, no matter what claims they make or how high the levels of their SPF values, can achieve perfect protection.

Sunscreen products between SPF15 and SPF25 are generally sufficient for daily uses.

High SPF sunscreen products are not necessarily better and suitable for daily use especially for children and people with sensitive skin as they may increase the chances of developing allergic reaction.

In fact, adequate amount of sunscreen applied is more important. Based on an average-sized adult, 6 teaspoons (approximate 36 grams) of sunscreen with SPF15-25 is enough to provide protection for the whole body. However, none of the sampled products indicated the minimum dose (e.g. gram or ml) that should be applied on face or body.

Consumers choosing for an appropriate sunscreen should take into account such factors as the weather, UV index, personal conditions, length of time of sunlight exposure, environment and types of activity. For instance, outdoor activities at high altitude, or prolonged stay under the sun or swimming, that require products of higher SPF and with water resistance property.

Babies under 6 months old should not use any sunscreen products. It is also not advisable to choose sunscreen products with insect-repelling ingredients for children and adults alike.

Some sunscreen products with high SPF claim they are suitable for people who have received special facial treatment (laser, intense pulse light and peeling treatment). However, dermatologists caution that people with wounds or swelling should not use sunscreen, but to adopt non-chemical sunscreen methods (wear clothes, hat and open an umbrella) for protection.

Do not focus only on the SPF value, but pay attention also to the efficacy of protection against UVA. Look for products with protection against both UVA and UVB by choosing sunscreen with both the SPF and PA (Protection Grade of UVA as adopted by Japanese manufacturers) values or with a new "UVA-seal" adopted by European manufacturers.

Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes beforehand; do not stay under strong sunlight for long and re-apply frequently (at least every 2 hours); wear appropriate clothing, hat, sunglasses and open an umbrella for better protection.

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