During May and...
Pharmacy assistants are likely to field a large proportion of the enquiries about the revised Australian Standard on sunscreen, which will increase the maximum Sun Protection Factor claimable to 50-plus, as well as cracking down on labelling.
‘Pharmacy assistants are really important people to talk to about this stuff,’ says Terry Slevin, chair of the Cancer Council’s Occupational and Environmental Cancer Risk Committee and of its National Skin Cancer Committee.
‘There’s a lot of sunscreen sold at pharmacies, and people might feel reluctant to ask the pharmacist technical details about sunscreen, so it’s the kind of product where pharmacy assistant service is quite influential and important.’
The new standard not only sees the introduction of a higher maximum SPF, but also bans the use of the words ‘waterproof,’ ‘sunblock,’ and ‘sweat-proof’.
It requires sunscreen to provide an increase in the level of protection against UVA radiation that must be a third of the SPF claimed at the least.
Before new products can be supplied, the new standard needs to be adopted in legislation.
‘Consumers will expect and demand SPF 50-plus sunscreen as a result of the revised standard,’ says Colin Blair, CEO of Standards Australia.
He says raising the SPF limit was decided by a panel which deliberated its public benefits and technical requirements.
The term ‘waterproof’ is misleading and not permitted, the new Standard states. It acknowledges that sunscreens will wash off when immersed in water.
The term ‘sunblock’ is misleading, it says, and not permitted because it may be interpreted to mean that 100% of the sunburning radiation is blocked.
The term ‘sweat-proof’ is also misleading and not permitted, it says.
‘That’s about removing the kind of inevitable marketing imperatives that any competitive industry is tempted to get into,’ Terry told PSi.
This kind of terminology gives consumers a greater level of confidence in the product, he says – greater than the product is actually able to deliver.
‘It’s important to ensure that the terminology is as accurate as it can be. For example, sunscreen is not sunblock. It screens the sun, filters the sun and the extent to which that happens is reflected in the SPF number.
‘So there’s now removal of the opportunity to use the term “block” and also removal of the term “waterproof”.
‘No sunscreen is waterproof. The common understanding may be that it’s impervious to the effect of water, and no sunscreen is impervious to the effect of water.’
He says that water immersion, water movement, the exfoliating effect of sand and of drying oneself with a towel all remove sunscreen from the skin over time, as does being active in the sun.
When the maximum claim allowed was raised from SPF15 to SPF30, there were concerns that consumers would take this as a green light to spend more time in the sun provided they wore the new product.
‘It’s a very hard issue to research empirically, but we are constantly concerned about anecdotes that reach us about the extent to which people rely heavily on sunscreen, and are surprised and dismayed when it doesn’t provide them the sun protection they anticipate,’ Terry says.
‘These are expectations well beyond the reality of what a product could reasonably be expected to deliver.
‘The vast majority of sunscreen users don’t use enough to achieve the SPF on the bottle. Evidence suggests they use about half the quantum needed to achieve the SPF label claim.
‘So for SPF15, people were getting about SPF7; for 30, roughly 15. We hope that there won’t be a further reduction in the quantum use: there’s always a temptation to think, “This is stronger, I don’t need to use as much” particularly if people are on a budget and are looking to stretch their dollar or their product a bit further.
‘They’re always going to be tempted to use a little less, resulting in a greater level of UV to the skin and increasing the prospect of burning.
‘These were our concerns when we went from 15 to 30, and again now from 30 to 50. The concerns are the same.’
Terry says it’s important people don’t just rely on sunscreen when aiming to protect themselves from UV radiation: the Cancer Council now also recommends we use sunglasses, hats, protective clothing and seek shade, an extension of the original ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ campaign.
Hats and sunglasses are particularly important for eye protection.
‘If we can encourage pharmacy assistants to adopt the teaspoon approach – that is, a teaspoon for each limb, a teaspoon for the front and the back – that would help,’ Terry says.
‘The first thing we say about sunscreen is “use it”. The second is “use enough of it”. The third is that it isn’t a suit of armour against the sun.’
The Australian Self-Medication Industry (ASMI) welcomed the publication of the new standard, which it says ‘represents a major milestone in moves to provide greater sun protection for Australians.’
ASMI executive director Dr Deon Schoombie says that when adopted as the legal standard, this will introduce a significant increase in the level of protection provided by sunscreens in Australia.
‘The new standard will bring Australia into line with that of other developed nations, and recognises the real danger to public health caused by excessive sun exposure,’ he says.
‘Even with the new, higher standard, Australians need to recognise the risks of extended sun exposure and the need to adopt a total strategy.
‘Applying sunscreen to the exposed parts of the body, liberally and carefully before sun exposure, is a key element in providing protection against the sun.
‘Other steps include wearing protective clothing, wearing a hat and sunglasses and avoiding sun exposure by staying in the shade as much as possible, particularly during the hottest part of the day.’
by Megan Haggan
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