/ Health

No more Slip-Slop-Slapdash SPF claims


Our latest test found a sunscreen that fell short of its SPF claim. How can this still happen, asks Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith?

The era is over when we all blithely slapped on a bit of sunscreen before we roasted ourselves and then treated the burns with calamine lotion. Each year, 100,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the UK. Cases of the deadliest form – melanoma – have risen by 360% since the late 1970s. Cancer specialists think this is partly due to more of us holidaying abroad.

But awareness of the link between sun exposure and skin cancer has also, thankfully, increased. Most of us are now mindful of the need for proper sun protection, including what to look for in a sunscreen. When we asked you what you consider first when buying one, 85% of you told us the product’s sun protection factor (SPF) was key.

It’s crucial that the SPF claims on sunscreens are correct.  And in our latest test of 15 sunscreens that claim to offer SPF30, I’m happy to say that the vast majority were. However, we did uncover some questionable claims, including one Don’t Buy sunscreen that our tests showed offered significantly less than its claimed level of protection. This was a Hawaiian Tropic product – and it’s the third year running that a sunscreen from this brand has failed our SPF test. How can this still be allowed?

Once-a-day sunscreens

Another worrying trend is the advent of once-a-day sunscreens. These are banned in Australia, where anything that leads you  to believe that sunscreens don’t need to be regularly reapplied is forbidden. We don’t think they should be allowed over here, either. How can applying any sunscreen just once keep you well enough protected for a whole day? In fact, at the end of our tests of these particular products we discovered an average 74% decrease in SPF protection.

The SPF figure is not a vague bit of marketing puff. It’s a specific claim about how long the product could protect you in the sun, and there is absolutely no excuse for it not to be accurate.

We’ve been testing sunscreens for years now. So it beggars belief that there are still products not meeting their SPF claims. The very least we can expect is sunscreen labels we can rely on.

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For three years, a Hawaiian Tropic product has failed to meet the required standard and I have read that the company has claimed that their product does meet the standard. I appreciate that it’s normal procedure to notify companies and the relevant authorities of unsatisfactory products and services. In this case, if Which? is sure of its facts, Trading Standards should be looking into the case and if appropriate take action against the manufacturer.

This is a safety issue and I’m glad the identity of the questionable product has been made public and not just revealed to subscribers to the magazine.


wavechange has nailed the fundamental question – what happened after the first fail, and then the second fail.

If it were Australia I imagine the brand would have received a “Shonky Award” with all the attendant media coverage.

My view is am not entirely happy that in a matter of science that we can have two competing statements of efficacy. Surely there should be a definitive explanation of how either the tests replicate each other or differ, The different claims may lead to yet another EU standard testing regime which is flawed by being loosely regulated.


Hawaiin Tropic is a brand of Edgewell who declare of their personal care products: “Well reflects our ultimate goal, as a personal care business, to deliver wellbeing for the people who use our products. It speaks to our commitment that everything we create is well designed and well made.” It is distributed by in Europe by Wilkinson Sword, whom they own. It seemingly is available at Boots, Superdrug and, as Which? says, online where no doubt many thrifty holiday makers will buy their necessities.

There should be no ambiguity about the test procedure. It is carried out on people using a Xenon source and strictly controlled. It is an ISO standard (International Standards Organisation) reproduced by BSI as BS EN ISO 24444, so the UK tests should reflect tests in other countries, and particularly in the USA, the home of the manufacturer. So why do Which? not send samples that failed to the USA (maybe the FDA) for validation. They may have the teeth to see such products are withdrawn from sale. If Which? has seen this product fail for 3 years I wonder why action has not been taken before now?

Which? should also, if it has confidence in its results, inform the retailers of its findings so they can (should) withdraw the product from sale as, apart from being potentially hazardous to health, it fails trades description. Have they done this?


The only caveat to your post that I can add is whether the formulation is the same in the EU and in the US. For many many years Dunlop has been a brand name with different owners in different world markets so one cannot assume the same product despite the name.

This must be a particular problem in a world of grey imports to the EU. You could also see the potential for citizens of the UK to buy cheap inferior sunscreens from the USA without realising that the formulations are different.

For an overview of sunscreens Wikipedia is interesting , and mentions in passing the possible effects of sunscreen chemicals on other animals.


Maybe we need to start our own Shonky Awards, united with Europe or otherwise, starting with loose regulations and carrying on with dodgy claims. And the Poorformance Award goes to…

I hope we manage to get the dodgy sunscreens off the shelves. To think they may cost lives…

And get them to be sold without tax added? I would argue that saving your skin, literally or otherwise, isn’t a luxury.


Hear hear for the Shonkys
They ain’t messin’ around …

I think I can almost imagine a sound track to go with it.


I like the idea so long as the word “shonky” has now lost all its anti-Semitic connotations. That might not matter so much in the Antipodes but it sure would up here.


You show me a dictionary that says its anti-semitic because I cannot find one. Admittedly only three on-line and my Chambers. The nearest I can get is Collins suggesting it might be based on a Yiddish word . I have also found it as a dialect word as the base. But given its the dictionaries against you … I am inclined to think it is OK.

SO in tribute to the consumers of Australia I think we should acknowledge their less supine Awards system.


For lovers of Pratchett this link relates to an early Irish derivation