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HEALTH: Sun creams leave users exposed to skin cancer

SUN-CARE products will have to be reformulated and their bottles relabelled under EU reforms designed to stop sunbathers being duped into believing that they have more protection than they actually do.

The European Commission said that many claims made on sunscreen bottles were untrue, and that the system of “sun protection factors” was widely misunderstood and misleading.

The result is that many people have had less protection than they thought, encouraging them to stay longer in the sun and increasing the chance of developing skin cancer. The problems mainly arise because the existing labelling system is aimed at preventing sunburn, but not skin cancer, which is caused by a different type of radiation.

The Commission wants to ban all misleading claims, ensure that creams provide more protection against rays that cause skin cancer and introduce a simple four-tier warning system stating whether the product offers low, medium, high or very high protection. Initially, the new system will be used alongside the SPF numbers.

It said that claims such as “total protection” lulled people into a false sense of security. “Despite frequent claims, no sunscreen products can provide a full protection against UV radiation,” it said. It also criticised products that claimed to give full protection to babies and young children.

European officials are in talks with US authorities to create a standard system. The Commission hopes that the industry will agree to the new scheme, in which case it could be introduced next year.

The SPF numbers refer only to protection against UVB radiation, which causes sunburn, but not UVA radiation, which causes skin cancer. Cancer charities all welcomed the move yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Boots, manufacturers of Soltan, said that it already used a labelling system that incorporated UVA protection as recommended by the EU.

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