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Sunscreens: Commission moves to improve labelling

Commission Européenne - IP/06/571   04/05/2006

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IP/06/571

Brussels, 4 May 2006

Sunscreens: Commission moves to improve labelling

Summer, beach, sun ... millions of Europeans will soon hit the sun spots for their annual summer holidays. And millions of citizens will be faced with the question what sunscreen product to choose in order to be adequately protected. But there are weaknesses in the way sunscreen products are currently labelled. One important aspect relates to the two different types of hazardous UV-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. However, the so-called ‘sun protection factor (SPF)’ only protects against sunburn (UVB radiation). Against this background, the European Commission has launched an initiative to improve the labelling system. Following a public consultation opened today, the Commission will issue a recommendation which will ensure that industry, as of 2007, applies a standardised, simple and understandable labelling of sunscreen products. For more details see MEMO/06/185.

Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy said “The current situation is untenable. The best way forward is a recommendation to which industry commits to label sunscreen products properly. This will give consumers clear and coherent information without creating unnecessary red-tape for industry.”

Commissioner Markos Kyprianou, responsible for health and consumer protection said: “Consumers must be made fully aware that no sunscreen product can provide 100% protection against hazardous UV-radiation. There are serious health risks, such as skin cancer, linked to insufficient protection from the sun. EU citizens need to be fully informed about what sunscreens will and will not do for them. ”

The Commission initiative to improve the labelling

To improve the current situation, the Commission acts to improve the way sunscreens are labelled.

  • To enable consumers to compare products, UVA protection should be indicated in a uniform way based on standardised testing methods.
  • Claims giving the impression of total protection, such as “sunblocker”, should disappear.
  • Labels should bear clear and understandable warnings and usage instructions for the consumer on how to use a sunscreen product correctly.

To achieve this, the Commission will adopt a recommendation giving guidance to industry for efficacy and claims of sunscreen products. These guidelines will apply to all sunscreen products, including imported products, placed on the EU-market. This will ensure a swift implementation by industry without creating additional bureaucracy.

Weaknesses of the current labelling of sunscreen products

The well-known “sun protection factor” addresses mainly UVB radiation (which is the cause for “sunburn”) but not UVA radiation (which is an important contributor to the skin-cancer risk and to skin-aging). And, there are not yet uniform testing methods to compare the strength of UVA protection. Every producer has his own way to measure and indicate this protection, such as:

broad spectrum


broad extra UVA, UVB


100% anti UVA/UVB/IR


keeps short UVA radiation away

UVA of 30A


strengthened protection UVA


UVB absorption spectrum 30/UVA 30



25B 7A

“Sun blockers” and “total protection”? They do not exist. Despite frequent claims like “sunblocker” and “total protection”, no sunscreen products can provide for a full protection against UV radiation.

Claims to fully protect babies and young children? Sunscreen products should not give the misleading impression that they provide sufficient protection for babies and young children.

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 2mg/cm² is required. The quantity to cover the whole body can amount to a third of a smaller bottle. Moreover, this quantity has to be re-applied frequently.

What should consumers know for this summer?

Consumers should at any rate use sunscreen products. But the Commission advises to choose sunscreen products protecting against UVA and UVB radiation.

It is important to know for consumers that sunscreen products should only be one of a number of measures to protect from the UV radiation of the sun, such as:

  • Avoiding excessive sun exposure at peak hours, when the sun is strongest;
  • Wearing protective clothing, hats and sun glasses;
  • Babies and young children should not be exposed to direct sun light at all.

Facts about the sunscreen industry

The EU is a very important and continuously-growing market for the sunscreens industry. In 2004, the estimated retail value (retail sales price) of sunscreen products in Europe was approximately € 1.3 billion. In 2005, sales have increased by 4% in the EU.

The EU sunscreen market is dominated by European companies: Amongst the top ten suppliers in the EU, there are only three non-European companies whose market share amounts to roughly 12%.

The text public consultation on the draft recommendations is available for comments on the internet at:

http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/cosmetics/sunscreens/index_en.htm.


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