Pricey mineral-based sunscreens fail to provide adequate protection against harmful rays according to Which? testing, despite costing up to 10 times more than chemical-based counterparts.
With many parts of Britain basking in a heatwave, it is important for everyone to protect themselves from harmful UVA and UVB rays that could lead to skin damage and even cause skin cancer.
But Which? tests of popular sunscreens found some do not live up to their SPF claims and therefore do not offer adequate sun protection, meaning people using them could unwittingly put themselves at risk.
The consumer champion tested popular sun creams, including five mineral sunscreens and eight chemical-based versions from the high street. All of the mineral sunscreens failed SPF or UVA testing; three products failed both tests
Most high street sunscreens – known as chemical based sunscreens – work because they use ingredients that absorb UV rays, whereas mineral sunscreens physically block ultraviolet radiation using ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
Which?’s tests revealed that none of the expensive mineral SPF30 products included offered the level of protection claimed. One of the least effective, Clinique Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, which costs £26 for a 125 ml bottle, barely provided a third of the claimed SPF level.
Tropic Skin Shade Cream (£28/200ml), co-owned by Lord Sugar and former Apprentice contestant Susan Ma, barely provided a third of its claimed SPF30 when it came to Which?’s SPF testing and it also failed UVA tests. However, it is the only brand that has committed to a full re-testing of its product and has ceased sales of it whilst they wait for the results.
Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Fragrance Free (£11.99/113ml) which is sold on the high street at Holland and Barrett also failed both Which?’s SPF and UVA testing.
Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Protective Sun Milk (£10.50/100ml) passed Which?’s UVA testing but also offered significantly less SPF protection than claimed, meaning it failed the tests.
The fifth high street mineral sunscreen that failed Which?’s tests – Green People Scent Free Sun Cream SPF30 (£25.50/200ml) – also available on the high street at Holland and Barrett, uses mineral and chemical UV filters. While it was the only mineral product to pass on SPF protection, it failed when it came to blocking UVA rays.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which shows how much a product protects against UVB rays, is one of the most important considerations when buying sunscreen, however UVA rays can also lead to premature ageing and skin cancer.
Products need to pass both SPF and UVA tests to be considered acceptable, so the five mineral products that failed the consumer champion’s testing have been labelled as Which? Don’t Buys. Any products that fail initial tests are re-tested using a different sample to confirm results.
Four out of the five mineral sunscreens that failed Which?’s tests market themselves as being better for the environment with ‘reef safe’ or ‘ocean friendly’ messages on their packaging. While some research has suggested a possible link between ingredients in chemical sunscreens and ‘coral bleaching’, there is still no clear consensus about the extent to which sunscreen ingredients affect ocean life.
Eight chemical-based sun creams including cheap supermarket own brands passed both the SPF and the UVA testing, meaning they would do a good job protecting a user’s skin. However, Which?’s user testing panel found various differences between products when it came to factors such as ease of application, absorbance and greasiness.
Which? supports consumers seeking products that are eco-friendly but advises people to think carefully about the trade off between sustainability and using an effective sunscreen. While research continues, Which? advice on sunscreen remains unchanged – use a reliable sunscreen and reapply regularly.
Hawaiian Tropic and Clinique rejected Which?’s findings. Green People said it was investigating further. Alba Botanica did not respond to requests for comment.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:
“Looking after your skin while enjoying the sunshine is something everyone should do to prevent skin damage and the risk of skin cancer. It’s a massive concern that none of the expensive mineral sunscreens in our tests offered the level of protection claimed on their packaging.
“Our advice is don’t waste your money or take any unnecessary risks – stick to a tried and tested and reliable suncream. We’ve found plenty of highly effective, cheap sunscreens available on the highstreet so there’s no need to splash out to keep you and your loved ones safe in the sun”
Notes to editors:
Link to video including how sun creams are tested by Which? available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMPHBLomYNI
- Which? put 13 branded and own-label sunscreens through British Standard tests (BS EN ISO 24444:2020 and BS EN ISO 24443:2012) to check that each product meets SPF claims and has sufficient UVA protection.
- The EU recommendation for UVA protection calls for sun creams to offer a UVA protection factor that is at least a third of its SPF, so this is what we expect products which claim to protect against UVA to meet.
- To test SPF, a UVB lamp is shone on sunscreen applied to volunteers’ backs and researchers record when skin reddens and compare the smallest amount of UVB required with and without the sunscreen.
- The difference between the two is used to calculate the SPF. This tested on a minimum of 10 people. To test UVA protection, a thin film of sunscreen is spread on a rough glass plate and it is placed in the light-path of a UV spectrophotometer (a machine that measures light) to measure the UVA radiation absorbed by the sunscreen.
- To pass the test this needs to be a minimum of one-third of the SPF.
Which? 2022 sunscreen test results:
- Asda Protect Moisturising Sun Lotion SPF30
- Avon Sun Body Cream SPF30
- Calypso Press & Protect Sun Lotion SPF30
- Lloyds Pharmacy Solero Moisturising Lotion SPF30
- Morrisons Sun Nutmeg Sun Spray SPF30
- Piz Buin Allergy Sun Sensitive Skin Lotion SPF30
- Superdrug Solait Moisturising Sun Cream Spray SPF30 High
- Ultrasun Family SPF30
- Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Fragrance Free SPF30
- Clinique Mineral Sunscreen Lotion For Body SPF30
- Green People Scent Free Sun Cream SPF30
- Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Protective Sun Milk SPF30
- Tropic Skin Shade sun cream SPF30
*Products which passed Which? SPF and UVA tests and protect as claimed.
**All products which fail either SPF or UVA tests are Don’t Buys
For more information on how Which? tests sunscreen, click here: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/sun-creams/article/how-we-test-sun-creams-a1AcM2l6WYPh
- TROPIC SKIN SHADE SUN CREAM SPF30
Tropic have committed to run a full re-test of the product and have ceased sales of the product whilst they wait for the results
“The safety of our customers is always our number one priority, and we take the integrity of our formulations incredibly seriously. Our Skin Shade is mineral-based – with over 20% mineral zinc oxide – which requires specific considerations during testing.”
“All of our sunscreens are rigorously and periodically tested with independent ISO-accredited labs that have over 30 years of experience in globally-compliant SPF testing, ensuring the highest level of accuracy. The latest test for this product was taken in August 2021, achieving an SPF rating of 32.5 using international standard method ISO 24444:2019. Our ISO and GMP-accredited manufacturing facility has re-checked this batch and can confirm that it has passed all quality checks. We therefore disagree with Which?’s report. However, as an extra precaution for our customers we have sent off all our sunscreen for independent re-testing with multiple labs and have ceased sale for our mineral sunscreens while we await definitive results.”
- HAWAIIAN TROPIC MINERAL PROTECTIVE SUN MILK SPF30
“Edgewell is a global leader in the manufacturing of sunscreens and a key responsible player in the British market. We are proud of the quality and performance of our products and we stand behind their labelling.
“In the specific case of our product (HAWAIIAN TROPIC MINERAL PROTECTIVE SUN MILK SPF30) we firmly disagree with the testing results obtained by Which?.
“Our product’s sun protection factor has been tested by a reputable and internationally recognised laboratory with testing facilities in four continents, following Good Clinical Practices (GCP) and guidelines established by the International Council for Harmonization (ICH), so it is fully substantiated.
“Our product was tested using the ISO 24444 method and obtained an SPF result of 34.5.
“In addition, our product obtained results for UVA (radiation known for causing the most damaging effects to human skin) protection levels that surpass the minimum thresholds required by European regulations currently recognised by the UK. Our formula offers additional skin care benefits such as moisturisation (12 hours) and non-comedogenicity.
“Finally, after verifying with our Post Market Surveillance dept, Edgewell has not received any complaint or reported adverse reaction from UK consumers. Our product is behaving as expected in the market.”
- CLINIQUE MINERAL SUNSCREEN LOTION FOR BODY SPF30
“Clinique told us it has conducted external standard testing which supports its SPF claims and meets EU guidelines for UVA. ‘All our products are subjected to rigorous testing – we guarantee our claims are clinically valid. Our evaluation and inspection process means we have full confidence in the integrity and efficacy of all ingredients and formulas.”
4.GREEN PEOPLE SCENT FREE SUN CREAM
Green People said it’s puzzled why the mean measured UVA PF fell below the level recommended by the EU, and that it was in the process of investigating this further.
- ALBA BOTANICA SENSITIVE MINERAL SUNSCREEN SPF30
The makers of Alba Botanica didn’t respond to our request for comment before going to press.
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