17 Nov 2017

False UV protection claims not good enough for sunbathers

9:11 pm on 17 November 2017

Sunbathers in Wellington today appeared to be dismayed to find two brands of sunscreen were withdrawn for false levels of UV protections and a third had its status downgraded.

None of them had any of the brands that were affected but said they would have been angry if they had.

Starting from the left : Tamara Baker 16 year old, year 12 Wellington east ex Brooklyn. Havana Baker, 18, working at Early Childhood centre. Tevita Faletagoia, aged 18, studying at Uni Cantab.

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

One of the sunbathers was 19-year-old arts student Elizabeth Mitchell, who said she always used sunscreen and needed to know it was reliable.

"There's rules about what we sell as food, so I think there should be the same rules that if you are selling sunscreens, there should be some sort of testing to prove that it is reliable and meets a certain standard," she said.

Her companion, James Donaldson, also a student, also wanted more certainty.

"If you are buying sunscreen to protect yourself from the harsh rays, you want to be able to rely on that," he said.

"Otherwise you are just putting on cream that does nothing really, you know."

These comments follow news that two brands of sunscreen have been withdrawn from the market after tests by Consumer NZ.

They showed Snowberry Family+ Sunscreen SPF30 had an SPF of only 20, and Pure Blend Sunscreen SPF15++ had an SPF of just 4.

A third brand, Pure South 100% Natural Sunscreen, was not withdrawn but would no longer be labelled as a sunscreen.

Elizabeth Mitchell, aged 19, a student of Wellington and James Donaldson, aged 19, student from Auckland.

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Consumer NZ Chief executive Sue Chetwin said there was a health risk from unproven claims.

"Consumers should have confidence that when they buy sunscreen that it is going to do what it says it does."

Back on the Wellington beach, Fernanda Biras - a migrant worker from normally blistering Brazil - was well aware of the dangers from New Zealand sunshine.

She wanted to be sure that the steps she was taking to protect herself, would work.

"Especially because here in New Zealand where the sun is so strong, (sunscreen) is really important because of cancer," she said.

"I have some people whom I knew who died of cancer so I think it is really important."

It was not possible to get responses from all the manufacturers of the now withdrawn products.

But one was Kelly Willoughby of Pure Blend, who does homemade, natural-ingredient products from a small company in Hastings.

She said she did not test her sunscreen before putting it on the market, because it had to be done in Australia.

And she willingly withdrew her product when the SPF 15 claim proved wrong.

"I withdrew it because I do not want to say it is SPF 15 when it is not, even though I put the amount of zinc into it that the guidelines say is (sufficient) for SPF15."

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said there could be a claim under the Consumer Guarantees Act if a sunscreen had insufficient UV protection compared with what was promised.

It added sunscreens were regulated as cosmetics, but research was underway to decide if they would be better regulated as therapeutic goods like medicines.

Consumer NZ meanwhile said it was not stopping - it was testing more sunscreens and would have more results around Christmas.