Which? calls out sunscreens for not living up to their SPF claims

UK watchdog Which? has tested 15 sunscreens to see which ones lived up to their SPF claims so you can have the best sun protection this summer.

This year the Japanese and Korean skincare markets were hit hard by independent SPF testing, which found many suncare products haven’t been living up to their UVA and UVB claims. Now, consumer watchdog Which? has taken matters into their own hands to assess the safety of UK’s popular sunscreen products.

Which? tested a total of 15 branded and ‘own label’ suncare products for both adults and children to see which ones fulfilled the claims on their labels. Findings suggested that both Nivea's 'Kids Protect & Care' and Garnier's 'Ambre Solaire Clear Protect' tested lower than their labels, with Which? considering them ‘don’t buy’ items.

How does sunscreen testing work?

SPF - standing for sun protection factor - is hugely important when considering a suncream as this measurement indicates the level of UVB protection, lessening the chances of skin damage and cancers.

To test thesunscreens, Which? followed the British standard tests for advertised levels of UVA and UVB protection. The standard UVB test involves applying the sunscreen in question to the backs of 10 volunteers. Researchers then record how much the skin reddens when exposed to a UVB lamp compared to skin with no sunscreen.

UVA testing is conducted sans volunteers and is instead applied to glass plates. These plates are then placed between a UVA source and a detector, determining how much radiation the sunscreen absorbs.

Which brands failed their SPF testing?

According to testing done by Which? Nivea's 'Kids Protect & Care' failed to meet the advertised SPF 50+ claims. However, a spokesperson for Nivea parent company Biersdorf argued against Which? findings, stating that ‘Nivea Sun prides itself on its decades of experience in sun care and is dedicated to developing products that reliably and effectively protect against sun damage.'

When this product was independently tested in 2019, it achieved an SPF of 62. When we re-checked this batch, the result was a UVA protection factor of 25.8. Based on this data and our comprehensive quality requirements, we disagree with the reported Which? findings.

Meanwhile, Garnier's 'Ambre Solaire Clear Protect' passed their SPF 30 promises but failed to meet the standards on UVA protection in two different tests. A spokesperson for L’Oreal - the parent company of Garnier - has also disputed Which? findings, arguing that their own independent testing showed that the product did, in fact, pass the UVA requirements.

Garnier Ambre Solaire has been the expert at suncare innovation for over 85 years and is the only suncare brand with research recognised by the British Skin Foundation. We take product efficacy very seriously.

The spokesperson continued:

Our UVA claims are supported by robust photoprotection testing carried out independently under ISO standard ISO 24443:2012 and meet the requirements of the European Recommendation for sun protection products. Given this, we are very surprised by the Which? results and have requested a meeting with the Which? researchers so our scientists can take them through our test results which confirm the efficacy of this product.

Which sunscreens should we use instead?

Which? magazine editor Harry Rose unveiled the company’s findings and provided recommendations for SPF products that won’t let you down. ‘Whether you’re finally off on holiday or staying at home this summer, it’s important to stock up on sunscreen to keep your skin protected from harmful rays.’

But our research shows consumers cannot always trust that these essential products will provide the level of protection they expect for themselves and their children. It is concerning that two sunscreens from respected brands have failed Which?’s tests. We would advise consumers not to buy these products. There are alternatives available that are both cheaper and performed better when we tested them.

Sunscreens that passed both Which? UVA and UVB testing included:

  • Asda Protect Cooling Clear Sun Mist (SPF 30)
  • Boots Soltan Kids Protect & Moisturise Suncare Lotion (SPF 50+)
  • Boots Soltan Protect & Moisturise Lotion (SPF 30)
  • Boots Soltan Kids Protect & Moisturise Spray (SPF 30)
  • Childs Farm Sun Cream (SPF 50+)
  • Garnier Ambre Solaire Kids Sensitive Sun Protection Lotion (SPF 50+)
  • Garnier Ambre Solaire Protection Lotion (SPF 30)
  • Hawaiian Tropic Satin Protection Sun Lotion (SPF 30)
  • Lloyds Pharmacy Solero Moisturising Sun Spray (SPF 30)
  • Nivea Sun Protect & Moisture Lotion (SPF 30)
  • Nivea Sun Protect & Moisture Spray (SPF 30)
  • Superdrug Solait Moisturising Sun Lotion (SPF 30)
  • Wilko Suncare Sun Lotion (SPF 30)
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