Published: 21 June 2024  (Updated: 21 June 2024)

You can trust your sunscreen's SPF and UVA protection - CTPA explains why

This month Which? Magazine has published its annual report about sunscreens. While the article provides helpful information, we understand that labelling some sunscreens as “don’t buy” may cause concern.  Staying safe in the sun is important, and effective use of sunscreens is a key part of a sun-safe regime.  CTPA would like to reassure you that you can buy any sunscreen from a reputable retail outlet in the UK with confidence. It will provide the protection claimed on the pack.

Dr Emma Meredith, Director General of CTPA and a pharmacist says:

“An incredible amount of research goes into developing and testing sunscreens to make sure we can trust the protection that they offer. CTPA is pleased to represent an industry which plays such an important role in protecting our skin from the risks linked to excessive sun exposure, from uncomfortable burns to premature skin ageing and to skin cancer.

Companies use supportive data and scientists with expert suncare knowledge to check their results and should only sell the product when the whole package of development test data and the final sun protection test results match.”


Find more facts here about sunscreen testing and protection:

Sunscreens safety and efficacy

In the UK, and EU, sunscreens are classed as cosmetic products.  Sunscreens are one of the most studied and assessed of all cosmetic products. Strict safety laws, the UK Cosmetics Regulation (UKCR), cover all cosmetic products, including sunscreens, placed on the UK, and EU, market.  The UKCR has the safety of cosmetic products, and so the consumer, at its core. The UKCR not only ensures human safety but also protects consumers by ensuring all claims made with regard to the effectiveness and product characteristics are adequately substantiated, and an SPF number and UVA protection are claims. To make a claim requires robust evidence.

Sunscreens should and do deliver the SPF on the label – companies must have robust evidence to support the SPF levels they put on their sunscreens and have evidence to support any claim they’re making about their products.  Labelling a product with an incorrect SPF is illegal and companies simply would not risk their reputations, or their customers’ health, by mislabelling sunscreens. Companies want people to be happy with their sun products and to buy them again.

There is a legal requirement that all cosmetics, including sunscreens, in the UK and Europe must undergo a very strict safety assessment by a qualified safety assessor.  The assessment covers the safety of the finished product as well as all the individual ingredients, how and where the product is to be used, by whom and how often.

Please see our infographic showing the sunscreen development process.

The SPF test process is reliable because repeated testing is undertaken throughout a product’s development, using specialist equipment and sometimes human volunteers, to ensure that the sunscreen is consistently reaching the right SPF level.

Achieving a consistent SPF result is crucial, because it creates a set of data that will later be needed to compare with the final human test results, which will decide whether the product is ready to go on shelves.

The process is time consuming, meticulous, expensive and essential, because if you haven’t undertaken all this testing, you can’t be sure that the final SPF test result is correct. Companies will only sell the product when the whole package of development test data and the final human SPF test results match. Consistency establishes accuracy.

The complete process is the best way to be sure that the SPF number on the product is right. Put simply, if you don’t do it all, you cannot trust the final test result.  Companies are also certain about the UVA protection provided by their products and have evidence to support any claims made relating to the UVA level, including the ‘UVA in a circle’ logo.


Helping consumers choose and use sunscreen

We should always choose a sunscreen that has an SPF number that suits our skin type and that contains UVA protection.   People with very fair skin are likely to burn quickest and will need a higher SPF than those with darker skin tones, but always select one that is at least SPF 15.

Experts in sun science have found that people tend to underestimate the level of protection that they need against the sun’s harmful rays, so consumers should consider carefully whether they need low, medium, high, or very high protection.  ‘Low’, ‘Medium’, ‘High’ or ‘Very High’ ratings can be found on the product, to help people make the right choice for them.  Importantly, SPF should never be used to ‘calculate’ how long you can stay in the sun without burning.

You can identify products that have UVA protection by looking for the letters UVA in a circle on the product.

It’s also best to opt for a sunscreen that is water resistant, and also to consider what best suits your lifestyle and budget. There is a wide range available to help us do that. In order to claim ‘water resistant’ or ‘very water resistant’ the product will have undergone testing according to a recognised industry method.

All sunscreens, regardless of their price, must comply with strict UK cosmetic law (UKCR) and provide the levels of protection that they claim.  It is common for most consumer products to be available from mass market to luxury and consumers can choose according to their personal preference.  There is a wide range of sun protection products available to suit all skin types, lifestyles and budgets. 

People can be confident that the sunscreen they use will deliver the SPF and UVA protection they expect, while always taking care to always follow the instructions on the label.


More information on sun protection products

Visit our comprehensive section All about Sunscreens which provides essential information, videos and infographics to ensure consumers are safe in the sun.  This includes:

  1. The difference between UVA, UVB and UVC?
  2. How to understand your sunscreen label
  3. Which protection level should I use?
  4. When should I apply sunscreen?
  5. How much sunscreen should I apply?
  6. Protecting children and babies
  7. I have darker skin tone - do I still need to use sunscreen?
  8. What is the difference between body and facial sunscreens?
  9. Can I just use a moisturiser or foundation with SPF?
  10. Am I protected in water?
  11. How long can I keep my sunscreen for?


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