Sunburn spoils many a holiday, and the long-term effects of over exposure to strong sunlight can be devastating.  Holidaymakers need to take steps to protect themselves. Sunscreen, also known as sun tan lotion, sun block or sun cream has a single purpose – to protect skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Lotion, cream, spray or gel

Sunscreen in lotion, cream, spray or gel format absorbs or reflects some of the sun’s harmful UV rays. Consumer awareness of the risks associated with sunburn, melanoma and skin damage has generated growth in the market and a corresponding proliferation of products.

All sunscreens offer protection against UVB rays, which are responsible for causing sunburn. Most, but not all protect the wearer against UVA rays.  Potentially more harmful, UVA rays cause invisible damage and skin ageing; they can also increase the rate at which melanomas develop. On packaging look for the sun protection factor (SPF) for UVB protection and star ratings (3, 4, or 5 stars) or the UVA symbol for UVA protection. 

Different parts of the world have different regulatory standards for sunscreens, including the FDA in the USA and European Commission regulation in the EU.

Understanding the SPF

The higher the SPF the greater the protection against sunburn from UVB rays. SPF is a measure of the time it takes for protected skin to show the signs of sunburn compared to the time it takes for unprotected skin to burn when irradiated with a constant level of UVB irradiation. Solar radiation varies and the intensity of exposure will  vary at different times of the day, so 30 minutes exposure to evening sunshine will not be as intense as 30 minutes in the midday sun.

Consumer protection

In the EU sunscreen is classed as a cosmetic and regulated like any other product in this category. All products must be tested and verified before entering the marketplace. There are some 28 UV filters authorised for use in cosmetic products by EU Directive 76/768/EEC and European Cosmetic Regulation 1223/2009, which comes  into force in 2013.

In the US sunscreen is classed as an over the counter (OTC) medicine and therefore highly regulated. In addition the FDA has this year updated package labelling standards. Sunscreen can no longer be described as waterproof, sweatproof or sun block. Instead ‘Water resistance’ claims on the label must indicate whether the product remains effective for 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing.

No substitute for common sense

For sun worshippers there is no substitute for taking advantage of summer sunshine. Sunscreen makes being outdoors safer but people should avoid, if possible, exposure to the midday sun and reapply it to get the maximum protection, especially after swimming.

One stop solutions

We conduct safety assessments to ensure that products are safe to be placed on the market. We can also submit formulations to the Cosmetic Product Notification Portal. Notification will be required under the EU Cosmetic Regulation, which comes into force in July 2013. With the largest global network of consumer goods experts and testing facilities around the world SGS is the partner to trust.

Martin Perry
Cosmetic Safety Assessor
SGS UK Limited
t: +44 1274 367980


SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognised as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 70,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,350 offices and laboratories around the world.