Sunscreen isn't "bulletproof" but buyers should still be able to count on manufacturers to make honest claims about the level of SPF protection offered.
Those are the views of shoppers in Tauranga after Parliament last week passed the Sunscreen (Product Safety Standards) Bill, led by Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller.
The bill takes the standards for sunscreen safety claims that are currently voluntary and makes them compulsory under the Fair Trading Act.
In 2021, Consumer NZ tested nine sunscreens. Three of them did not meet the SPF protection they claimed on the label. In 2020, 12 were tested, and seven failed.
Muller said the number of sunscreen products that currently meet the SPF standards claimed was "woeful".
"We use [sunscreen] on the assumption that if it says it's going to protect us, it will, and too often it hasn't been."
Sunscreen manufacturers that don't meet the safety standard now face a $600,000 fine.
Muller said the lack of enforceable standards "really struck home" for him, as has had several skin cancers removed and his father had melanoma.
Muller said this issue was "huge" for the Bay of Plenty.
"[Sunscreen] is a big part of how we make sure we stay protected in our remarkable lifestyle."
Bay of Plenty-based Labour list MP Angie Warren-Clark also backed the "sensible and practical" bill.
"This Bill provides an interim measure in regards to sunscreen regulation while the Government's Therapeutic Products Bill goes through its development.
"Once enacted, the Bill [therapeutic products bill] will provide an opportunity to determine whether and how to regulate sunscreen."
Rotorua mother Elizabeth Pilaar, whose son Michael died of melanoma aged just 19, said she was "delighted" the bill had passed.
"Now, firms do have to be accountable."
Michael's diagnosis at age 17 was a shock for the family.
"He was a young man who had lots of potential and was cut down by something that he could have survived, if we'd been aware of it earlier."
She urged people to check their skin and moles regularly, insist on getting medical care from GPs for anything suspicious, cover themselves more and reapply sunscreen regularly.
"Don't waste a life, don't waste an opportunity by not being aware of how you can prevent it."
Waikato/Bay of Plenty Cancer Society health promotion coordinator Kate Mason said some people, such as outdoor workers or people playing sports, relied on sunscreen as their main form of sun protection.
"We need to know that the product that we're using to protect ourselves ... is being effective."
She said Niwa data showed the Bay of Plenty had an average of 163 days a year when the UV level was above six. Sun protection was needed at three or above.
She recommended people follow the slip, slop, slap, and wrap mantra for complete sun protection instead of relying on sunscreen alone, and apply sunscreen thickly and every two hours.
The Bay of Plenty Times canvassed downtown Tauranga shoppers to find out if people trusted sunscreen labels.
Peter and Jenny from Otūmoetai hoped manufacturers would be "honest".
"I grew up in the days when you slapped on some Coppertone and fried yourself," said Peter. "I think there is now a move towards sun safety."
"I still think people rely on it too much," said Jenny. "They apply it once and think they're bulletproof for the day."
Caen Chapman-Taylor from Matua said people rely on the SPF label.
"You tend to buy the best SPF you can for your money."
Jessie from Pāpāmoa said: "You've only got what's on the bottle. It's just a try and test – if I'm not burned at the end of the day, I'm happy."
Kapri from Welcome Bay said: "You have to trust in what the manufacturer says."
"We're not doing enough prevention" - Doctor
Dr Franz Strydom says early detection is critical in the fight against melanoma.
"Every millimetre the cancer grows deeper, the lower your chances are of surviving it."
Strydom, a fellow of the Skin Cancer College Australasia, said his organisation formed to train GPs and nurses to use dermatoscopes to see into skin.
He said that opportunity for prevention or early detection was "absolutely critical" in melanoma treatment.
"We're not doing enough prevention."
He said it led to lower costs, better mortality rates, and reduced wait times for surgeries by taking pressure off hospitals.
Sunscreen was the "last line of defence" for sun safety, because it did not last long and was "not 100 per cent".
He advised avoiding being in the sun during peak radiation times of 11am to 4pm and covering up with clothing.
Strydom also dispelled the myth that Māori and Pasifika people can't get skin cancer.
"Skin colour is a protective factor, but it's not 100 per cent. It can happen to anyone ... especially in New Zealand."