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Consumers (04-05-2006)

Sunscreens: Never 100% protection – Commission consults on product labelling

Summer, beach, sun … millions of Europeans will soon enjoy their holidays. And millions of consumers will be asking themselves what sunscreen product they should buy to be best protected from the sun.
When we are in the sun, we expose ourselves to two different types of hazardous UV-radiation - UVA and UVB radiation. UVB radiation is the cause for “sun-burn”. UVA radiation causes premature skin ageing, interferences with the human immune system, and is an important contributor to the skin-cancer risk.
Yet how many people know that the ‘sun protection factor’ in sunscreens only protects against sunburn (UVB radiation)?
This is just one example of weaknesses in today’s labelling of sunscreen products. Against this background, the European Commission has launched a public consultation. It intends to use the results of this consultation to publish non-binding guidelines for producers setting minimum standards for sunscreen products and ensure a simple, understandable labelling. The text is available for comments at:
English: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/cosmetics/sunscreens/index_en.htm
French: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/cosmetics/sunscreens/index_fr.htm
German: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/cosmetics/sunscreens/index_de.htm
 
The consultation and subsequent guidelines will address issues such as:
 
Testing methods for UVA protection: Consumers are advised to choose sunscreen products protecting against UVA and UVB protection, but it is currently difficult to identify on the labelling whether a product addresses both kinds of radiation. And, there are no uniform testing methods for UVA protection, which would allow consumers to choose and compare products.
 
Sun exposure of babies and young children:  As exposure to sun during childhood is an important contributor to the development of skin cancer at a later age, sunscreen products should not create the impression that they provide sufficient protection for babies and young children.
 
“Sun blockers” and “total protection” do not exist: No sunscreen products can provide for a full protection against UV radiation. Sunscreen should be part of wider sun-protection efforts such as protective clothing and avoiding excessive sun-exposure at peak hours.
 
The correct application of the product is just as important as the choice of the product itself. For example, in order to reach the protection indicated with the “sun protection factor”, a quantity of about 35 g should be used to cover the whole body – a quantity that can amount to a third of a smaller bottle! Moreover, this quantity has to be re-applied frequently in order to maintain the protection.