As we clamour for an all too rare opportunity to soak up some Vitamin D, the European Commission has launched an initiative to improve the labelling of sunscreen products.
Who: EC Commission
When: July 2006
The recent bout of scorching weather across Europe seems to have been anticipated by a recent initiative launched by the European Commission to improve the existing labelling system of sunscreen products. Following an assessment of the current consumer marketplace of sunscreen products, the Commission has issued a press release that identifies a number of areas of concern, namely:
– the lack of a universal rating system in respect of the levels of protection offered by sunscreen products;
– a misleading impression given by some products that they afford sufficient protection for babies and young children;
– insufficient instructions on packaging as to how to apply a product effectively; and
– no uniform testing methods utilised by manufacturers in testing the strength of UVA protection.
In particular, the widespread public misconception that the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number awarded to products is a universal measure of the level of protection offered by sunscreen products is a cause of concern for the Commission. As SPF merely relates to UVB radiation, and as there is often no indication given on packing as to how effectively UVA rays will be filtered out, the potential risk to public health is substantial.
The Commission has issued a draft recommendation as to how the current system of labelling should be improved, designed to ensure that the cosmetics industry smartens up its act in protecting those exposed to the sun from harmful radiation. The aim is for these recommendations to be implemented by the industry by 2007.
Specifically, the Commission's recommendations state that labels on sunscreen products should take into account the fact that the scales of sun protection currently used on packing may differ widely from one manufacturer to the next, often in a number format with lower numbers offering less protection, and that therefore the likelihood of confusion in the mind of the consumer is high. Labelling using one out of four categories ("low", "medium", "high" and "very high") would provide for a simpler and more meaningful efficacy of sunscreen products than a variety of different numbers.
The recommendations also state that claims as to 100% protection from UV radiation, such as "sunblock" or "total protection" must not be made on packaging, as no sunscreen can ever completely block out the effects of solar radiation. Sunscreen products should display warnings indicating that this is the case, and should contain warnings indicating that exposure to the sun may be damaging, even where a sunscreen product has been applied to the skin. Examples of such warnings are given specifically in the Commission's recommendation, as follows:
– "Do not stay too long in the sun, even while using a sunscreen product."
– "Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight."
– "Over-exposure to the sun is a serious health threat."
Why it matters:
Consumers need to be properly informed of the type and level of protection offered by sunscreen products due to the health risk associated with both UVA and UVB radiation. Sunscreen products fall within the category of cosmetics, yet they play a fundamental role in protecting the health of those exposed to the sun. Sun burn and the consequential reddening of the skin is mainly caused by exposure to UVB radiation, as is the risk of developing skin cancer, however, UVA rays also pose a risk in these respects and are responsible for premature ageing of the skin. Furthermore, research suggests that exposure to both types of radiation has a negative effect on the body's immune system.
Through the implementation of a clearer system of sunscreen labelling, setting out the level of protection with regard to both UVA and UVB radiation in a simple and easy to use way, the growing risk of skin damage and radiation-related illnesses across Europe may hopefully be limited.