Sun worshippers were warned today that different brands of sunscreen displaying the same sun protection factor (SPF) may offer varying levels of protection.
Which? magazine called for a review of industry guidelines after its own tests revealed some lotions labelled SPF 15 provide less protection than stated.
It said the guidelines by Colipa, the European Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, allow testing to be carried out in different ways, meaning two scientists can test the same sunscreen and come up with a different strength.
Which? said a more consistent method of testing was needed so consumers could be confident that two brands displaying the same SPF really do provide the same protection. Which? editor Martyn Hocking said: “Consumers’ health is at stake here. Sunburn is strongly linked to several types of skin cancer so this situation needs to be sorted out urgently.
“The fact that sunscreens with the same label can be tested in different ways means that they won’t necessarily give the same level of protection, and that’s a problem if people assume they’re interchangeable.
“We’re talking to manufacturers and to Colipa to ensure that the testing guidelines are reviewed, as at the moment they are open to all sorts of interpretation.
“We all want people to be safe when they are in the sun and consumers need to have confidence that the label on their sunscreen is a good guide to the protection they’ll get.”
The SPF multiplies the amount of time a person can expect to spend in the sun before they start to burn. For example, someone who would normally burn after 10 minutes who uses SPF 15 can expect to burn after 150 minutes.
Which? tested sunscreens under the Colipa guidelines using a special lamp and 12 volunteers.
It measured how long it took for a small area of skin to turn red with and without the sunscreen.
Sunburn is mainly associated with the type of ultraviolet radiation known as UVB.
Asda’s Leah Watson said: “When you’re choosing your sun lotion this summer remember a higher price doesn’t naturally equal a better protection for you or your family.”