Sun worshippers baffled by star ratings

By Michael Day ULTRAVIOLET A protection ratings on sunscreen labels are misleading and should be scrapped, says the Cancer Research Campaign. CRC director-general Gordon McVie wants Colipa, the European association representing sunscreen manufacturers, to end the current “star” rating system for UVA protection. He says the system is almost universally misunderstood. “There’s real confusion,” he says. Sunscreens protect against two forms of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB. It is the high-energy UVB rays that burn the skin, and a sunscreen’s effectiveness against UVB is measured by its sun protection factor (SPF). While UVA rays do not burn, they damage the skin and can cause cancer. At present, sunscreen labels carry up to four stars, which are supposed to indicate their ability to block UVA. But the star rating is not an absolute measure of UVA protection. Instead, UVA star ratings depend on the ratio of a sunscreen’s effectiveness in blocking out UVA relative to its effectiveness in stopping UVB. McVie points out that if two products offer the same UVA protection, but one offers a higher UVB protection, it will be penalised with a lower UVA star rating. The CRC produces its own sunscreen, which has been given a two-star rating, even though it blocks 98 per cent of UVA rays at dangerous wavelengths. Cancer experts argue that providing a more meaningful UVA protection rating should be a top priority, given accumulating proof of the link between UVA exposure and cancer. “It’s now very well accepted: UVA causes skin cancer as well as ageing, wrinkles and abnormal pigmentation,” says Kate Law, head of clinical programmes at the CRC. “I’m not sure exactly what the current star system means,” says Law. “And if I don’t understand, I don’t know how the general public is supposed to.” Tony Chu, a senior lecturer in dermatology at Hammersmith Hospital, agrees: “The public is confused by the whole system.” The CRC wants manufacturers to replace the star rating system with a simple label stating whether a sun cream cuts out 90 per cent or more of the dangerous end of the UVA spectrum. But Boots the Chemist, which pioneered star rating in Britain in 1992, defends its system,
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