Some popular sunscreens provide less protection from harmful rays than they claim, a report published today says.

Some popular sunscreens provide less protection from harmful rays than they claim, a report published today says.

Tests conducted for the consumer magazine Which? found that lotions from the high street chemists Boots and Superdrug, plus the cosmetics firm Simple, fell short of the stated level of protection against UVB rays.

Boots criticised the results, calling them "grossly misleading", while Superdrug also disputed the findings.

Which? said it used tests that are widely employed in the European sunscreen industry. It found Boots Soltan 12-hour moisturising sun lotion provided an SPF of 10, five less than the level stated. Simple's 15 SPF sun protection lotion gave even less, just nine, while Superdrug's Solait lotion with the same SPF gave only 11.

A children's sun spray from Nivea claimed a UVA star rating of three, yet the tests found it was two. Superdrug's Solait green sun protection spray had a UVA four-star rating, but Which? said it found the actual level was one less. Malcolm Coles, editor of Which?, said: "The SPF should reflect the lower end of the range, so people aren't putting themselves at risk. Manufacturers need to ... ensure we're getting the protection we're promised."

UVA and UVB rays can both contribute to skin cancer, of which there are about 69,000 new cases in the UK each year, causing more than 2,000 deaths.

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