Cancer Society calls out Consumer NZ's test methods after sunblock fails SPF test

The Cancer Society has challenged Consumer New Zealand's testing of their sunscreen products, saying they had them tested incorrectly.

Te Kuiti resident Margaret Mays says her son has spent a week and a half in agony after being sunburnt despite using sunscreen.

The Society says it independently tested its SPF 50+ Kids Pure sunscreen in 2016 and in 2018, and the tests came back with results of SPF 60 and SPF 67.6 respectively - well above the SPF 50+ label claim.

"On the other hand, Consumer NZ is claiming its testing shows the sunscreen was SPF 41," Cancer Society CEO Mike Kernaghan said.

Consumer NZ last month released the results of testing it had conducted on a number of brands, including Cancer Society's Cancer Society Everyday SPF50+, which reportedly had a tested SPF result of 45 - below the label claim of 50+, but still very high protection.

Consumer NZ said at the time that regulation of the sunscreen market is now necessary in New Zealand, especially considering the prevalence of skin cancers like melanoma.

Mr Kernaghan today said his organisation agrees the industry should be regulated in New Zealand, saying "sunscreen products manufactured and distributed in New Zealand should be regulated, just as they are in Australia".

However, he also called out Consumer NZ's testing methods - and in particular the way it was shipped to the laboratory for testing.

"It is our strong belief that Consumer NZ's results were compromised by the product being decanted into non-compliant containers in New Zealand and then sent to Australia for testing," Mr Kernaghan said.

"This is important – because the bottles our sunscreens are packaged in are designed to maintain the quality and effectiveness of the sun screen as a medical product.

"In circumstances where our organisations cannot resolve our differences, the only fair and honest thing is to have testing conducted by an unrelated, independent third-party laboratory."

The Society says it asked Consumer NZ "to join it in having the product tested in a mutually agreed laboratory totally independent of either organisation.

"Consumer NZ declined, saying an additional test on the Cancer Society's product would be unfair to other companies," Mr Kernaghan said.

In a statement Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said its test of the Cancer Society’s Kids Pure Low Irritant Sun Lotion SPF50+ showed it provided high protection (SPF41), but not the very high protection claimed.

She said the product was tested by an accredited laboratory according to the voluntary Australian and New Zealand sunscreen standard (AS/NZS 2604:2012). Ms Chetwin says a 10 person test was carried out.

"We provided the opportunity for the Cancer Society to send us its own test results for the product. It provided results for a three-person test, not the full 10-subject test we’d expect given the difference we found in the product’s SPF."

Ms Chetwin says she rejects the Cancer Society’s claim that Consumer NZ’s results were compromised by the fact it decanted the sunscreen into a light-proof container before sending the sample to the lab.

"It’s common for samples to be sent blind in this way and the sunscreen was packed according to the lab’s instructions," she said.

"Rather than attacking us, we suggest the Cancer Society put its resources into its own sunscreen testing programme."


A number of consumers this month raised concerns about Cancer Society sunscreens, with some saying they were burned despite using the products correctly.

An Auckland mum complained about the brand's Kids Pure sunscreen after her 8-month-old daughter was burnt "beetroot red" while on a holiday to the Coromandel.

Cancer Society has strongly denied any of its products are below their stated SPF values, saying consumers are most likely not using the products correctly, or are suffering reactions to ingredients in the sunscreens.

"While we can only rule out product defects through our investigation and testing, it is likely most complaints are instances of skin sensitivity or improper application," Mr Kernaghan said.

"All current Cancer Society branded sunscreen formulations have returned results that exceed the SPF claims on their label. For example, our SPF50+ Kids Pure sunscreen most recently delivered an SPF test result of 60," he said.

The Society said none of the tests they have conducted due to consumer complaints over the past six years had showed a product with substandard SPF.

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