Britons' health is at risk because they are 'hugely confused' about sunscreen, says Royal Pharmaceutical Society

High summer may be in full swing - but poll finds widespread public ignorance of meaning of labels on creams and lotions

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Britons are being put at risk of skin damage and cancer because of the “huge confusion” surrounding the labelling of sunscreen, according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

High summer may be in full swing but, according to a poll commissioned by the chemists' body, most people do not understand the ‘factor’ or SPF ratings on creams – and fail to realise that products may fail to protect them from certain harmful sun rays.

The society is calling on manufacturers to use a single, easy-to-understand rating system for both UVA and UVB protection to replace the current ‘confusing’ dual system. Currently, the SPF rating applies only to ultraviolet B, or UVB, rays that cause skin cancer and sunburn.

Protection from deep-penetrating Ultraviolent A (UVA) rays – also linked with cancer as well as skin-ageing – is denoted by a star-rating, but only one-in-three people check this when buying sunscreen.

The survey by YouGov, of 2,000 adults, found that a quarter of people did not know what the rating on their sun protection stood for, while less than half of said they always or often use sun protection.

Fifteen per cent of adults with children in their household admitted that they never checked the UVA rating on a lotion.


Prof Jayne Lawrence, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: "This survey indicates that there is a huge amount of confusion around sunscreen labelling that is a barrier to effective sun protection.

"Clearly many consumers do not realise the SPF rating applies only to the amount of protection offered against UVB rays, not UVA rays - both of which can damage the skin and cause skin cancer.

"People should not have to pick their way through complicated dual ratings information to understand how sunscreen works and the amount of protection it potentially provides.

"We think it's time for sunscreen manufacturers to provide one easy to understand rating, based on a simple description of the total amount of sun protection offered: low, medium, high and very high protection.

"People now have largely got the message that they must protect their skin from the sun using sunscreen, along with other precautions such as covering up and keeping out of the sun during the hottest part of the day.

"What the RPS is calling for now is one uniform measure for all sun protection products, so pharmacists can provide easy to understand advice on the effectiveness of products and how they should be used."

Additional reporting by Press Association