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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
EU takes aim at sun cream labels
sunbathers on beach
No product provides full protection against ultra-violet radiation
The European Commission is taking steps to improve labels on sun cream, to give consumers better information about the level of protection it provides.

Current "sun protection factor" labels indicate protection from UVB radiation, which causes sunburn, but not from UVA, which also contributes to skin cancer.

The Commission says UVA protection must now be indicated, in a uniform way.

It also wants to ban the phrase "sun blocker" and to ensure people know how much cream to put on, and how often.

Skin ageing

Commission spokesman Gregor Kreuzhuber said the industry agreed that "something has to be changed as soon as possible" and that the new rules could be in place by next summer.

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
European Commission

There is not at present a single agreed method to test for UVA protection, so different manufacturers mark their products with "many different very confusing numbers," he added.

UVA causes premature skin ageing and interferes with the immune system, as well as contributing to skin cancer.

The Commission objects to phrases such as "sun blocker" or "total protection" on the grounds that no product can provide full protection against ultra-violet light.

It also points out that using the sun cream correctly is just as important as buying the right product, and that an average-sized sunbather has to use 35g to protect the whole body - equivalent to six filled teaspoons, or one-third of a small bottle.

Consultation

For this summer, the European Commission recommends:

  • Avoiding too much sun exposure at peak hours
  • Wearing protective clothing
  • Keeping babies and children out of direct sunlight

It underlines that 90% of ultraviolet radiation can penetrate clouds, and that half a metre under water it will still be 40% as intense as at the surface.

The Commission launched a period of consultation on Thursday, which will end in mid-June.

It will then issue a non-binding recommendation to industry.

An estimated 1.3bn euro (900m) of sunscreen products were sold in Europe in 2004.

Seven of the top 10 suppliers are European, with a joint market share of 88%.


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