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Confused by SPF, UVA, UVB? Which? reveals safe sun creams to use

Research shows confusion over sun cream labels

SPF-sun-cream-bottleMake sure your sun cream protects you from UVA and UVB

A heat wave is forecasted for next week, with temperatures predicted to reach 30°C in southern England. But do you know your UVA from your UVB?

Only 8% of people understand how sun cream protection ratings work, according to a survey by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

Knowing which SPF to go for can be tricky, and what about the UVA rating?

Which? not only shows you what the labels mean, but has tested sun creams to tell you which ones will actually protect you from the sun and which ones have failed our rigorous test. 

Keep your family safe in the sun with a Best Buy sun cream – head to our sun cream reviews.

What does SPF mean?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is about cancer-causing UVB rays. The number doesn’t relate to how much protection a product offers – it gives a hypothetical indication of how much longer you can stay in the sun before burning.

For example, in theory, an SPF of 15 means that you could stay 15 times longer in the sun than without sun cream before your skin becomes red. However, to get enough protection you’d need to carefully apply the sunscreen – and regularly reapply it throughout the day.

SPF ratings do not take into account protection from harmful UVA rays – this is typically indicated using a separate label. Around 80% of those survey thought the SPF label indicated both types of protection, UVA and UVB.

Learn more about UVA, UVB and how to stay protected in the sun using our guide to sun creams.

What is UVA?

UVA protection should not be ignored – UVA can also cause cancer and contribute to the aging of the skin.

UVA protection is often represented as a separate label on sun cream packaging. The UVA seal – a logo with ‘UVA’ inside a circle – indicates that a product meets the EU recommendation for sun creams to offer a UVA protection factor equivalent to at least a third of their SPF.

However, this label is not universal. Some products display the Boots star rating – the protection claimed by these products is higher than the minimum required by the EU.

And some sun creams use other logos, some of which conform to other countries’ standards.

Confused? To make sure you are getting a sun cream that protects you from both UVB and UVA rays, choose a Best Buy sun cream. Only sun creams which pass both our UVA test and our UVB test are awarded a Best Buy logo.

Sun creams to avoid

We rigorously tested 25 sun creams from popular brands including Garnier, Nivea and Piz Buin, as well as cheaper sun creams from shops like Boots and M&S, and own-brand products from supermarkets including Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Five sun creams have failed our SPF test and we recommend you stay clear of them. They are: Boots Soltan Protect & Moisturise Lotion SPF30 (200ml); Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration Lotion SPF30 (180ml); Hawaiian Topic Satin Protection Ultra Radiance Sun Lotion SPF30 (200ml); Piz Buin Ultra Light Dry Tough Sun Fluid SPF30 (150ml); Malibu Protective Lotion SPF30 (200ml).

Story update June 2018 – The sun creams above are those tested in 2015. Find out what are the most up-to-date Don’t Buy sun creams and Best Buy sun creams.

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