What New Sunscreen Standards Mean For Your Favourite Products

By Eva Wilson
Photo / Carolyn Haslett for volume two of Viva Magazine

Here in New Zealand, we know the importance of wearing sunscreen all year round to reduce the risk of sunburn and skin cancer. It can be disheartening to learn that many sunscreens on the market are failing to meet their SPF claims.

Earlier this year, the government announced a new bill the Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Bill which comes into effect as law this month. It requires all sunscreens above SPF 15 and insect repellents above SPF 4 to meet the sunscreen product safety standards in order to be sold in Australia and New Zealand.

The Fair Trading Act will be used to enforce the regulations. Brands risk receiving hefty fines if it is discovered that they have misrepresented a product's properties on the label.

New sunscreen regulations bring both peace of mind for consumers, and for brands who have been subject to criticism as their products will be efficacy tested before they hit the shelves.

Trust is an important factor when it comes to purchasing a product as important as sunscreen. Melanoma is the third most common cancer in New Zealand, with over 6,000 people being diagnosed each year (check out the early detection signs on the Melanoma New Zealand website here).

Sunscreens are categorised as 'cosmetics', meaning their marketing does not require review before promotion. Consumer NZ wants to see the current law strengthened even further by classifying them as 'therapeutic', which has tighter claims and testing criteria.

The regulations governing 'cosmetics' allows beauty brands to make vague and often bold claims. We've all come across products featuring immeasurable promises (think “promotes youthfulness” or “enhances the vitality of skin”). Sunscreen, however, is a product where you would expect validity.

Before this law change, the Australian/New Zealand sunscreen standard (AS/NZS 2604:2012) was a voluntary standard that brands were trusted to align with.

Voluntary standards or 'self-regulating codes of conduct' have long been criticised for giving businesses too much latitude to engage in shady activities.

However, the argument opens the door to a wider conversation about the role of government in business.

Taking the guesswork and subjectivity out of product promises, including those in the beauty world, would help to relieve a lot of product overspending and waste.

These new rules serve as a healthy reminder to research a product before purchasing and to always wear your sunscreen.


Below are a few of the sunscreens that met their labelled promises in the recent Consumer NZ product tests.

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