Perils and pearls of purchasing sun protection on the internet

With the advance of technology, access to international sunscreen products is becoming easier for Australian consumers, with the ability to make online purchases from all around the world. However, each country or region varies in regulation of sunscreen testing methods, and consequently standards and criteria for marketing sunscreens, which directs the labelling claims that consumers rely on. This affects the unsuspecting consumer’s choices in purchasing sun protection, which may be misinformed. This is particularly important for the Australian consumer, as evidence suggests that regular sunscreen use prevents both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers,(1) with non-melanoma skin cancers having a huge cost to the Australian health care system.(2)
This paper reviews the current accepted sunscreen testing methods listed in guidelines from countries and regions around the world and compares them with the current Australian guidelines. Areas of sunscreen testing have been broken down into three main categories: Sun protection factor (SPF) testing which tests Ultraviolet B (UVB) protection; Ultraviolet A (UVA) testing of both the critical wavelength and the magnitude of UVA protection, and water resistance testing. We also compare permitted active ingredients and labelling claims. We then discuss the discrepancies and similarities between these regulations and its effects on the consumer, and possible future steps to optimise the online marketing of international sunscreens.
1. Olsen CM, Wilson LF, Green AC, Bain CJ, Fritschi L, Neale RE, et al. Cancers in Australia attributable to exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation and prevented by regular sunscreen use. ANZJPH. 2012 October; 39(5):471–476.
2. Fransen M, Karahalios A, Sharma N, English DR, Giles GG, Sinclair RD. Non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia. Med J Aust. 2012;197(10):565-8.

Dr. Elissa Tong