Sunscreens - The Burning Questions; HPRA Publishes Results from National Survey on Consumer Understanding of Sunscreens

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Date: 22/06/2016

Nearly two thirds (62%) of Irish people do not always check the label of sunscreens for protection against the two harmful rays (UVA and UVB) from the sun, a Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) national survey revealed. In fact, when deciding to purchase a sunscreen, only four in ten (38%) considered the sun protection factor (SPF) most important and one fifth (20%) considered UVA protection the most important.

Whilst the level of familiarity with sunscreen terminology is relatively high, there is a worrying lack of understanding of specific labelling attributes amongst sections of the adult population. Almost one third (30%) admit to not understanding the term UVA while 27% admit to not understanding the term SPF. Only one quarter (25%) understood the term ‘Broad Spectrum’ – which indicates that a product provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

“Consumers need to be aware of the skin protection benefits of applying a sunscreen with UVA and an appropriate SPF protection. We would urge people to check the labelling of sunscreens as both UVA and UVB rays can cause extensive skin damage. It is particularly important that parents select a product that has UVA and a high SPF for children and that it is applied frequently to ensure sufficient sun protection” said Darren Scully, Cosmetics Compliance Manager, HPRA.

“With skin cancer one of the five most common cancers in Ireland, sunscreen is one of the best defences against sun exposure. Products that are incorrectly used or used beyond the safe period after opening can have reduced effect for consumers”, he continued.

The HPRA recommends that consumers should follow four general rules for sun protection:

  • Wear suitable clothes to protect against the sun (including hats);
  • Choose a sunscreen with UVA and an appropriate SPF protection;
  • Follow the usage instructions; apply 20 minutes before going into the sun and reapply frequently, especially after perspiring, swimming or towelling;
  • Stay out of the direct sun when it is at its peak during the day.


‘’How much is the right amount of sun cream to use can be difficult to know. For an average adult, use six teaspoons of sun cream to cover your body. This is equivalent to six good squirts into your hand. We have developed a handy infographic that can help consumers know how much to apply for different ages.’’ Darren Scully explained.

Other findings from the national survey include:

  • Four in ten (41%) admit to not understanding the open jar symbol (denotes the safe period after opening) on cosmetic products, including sunscreens;
  • Females (70%) were more likely than males (47%) to understand the open jar symbol;
  • Only four in ten (44%) said they would not use or keep sunscreen beyond the safe period after opening time stated on the package. One third (34%) admitted they would use sunscreen beyond the safe period after opening time and 22% didn’t know there was such a symbol;
  • Price was the most important factor for almost one quarter (23%) of those surveyed; and 
  • Only one in ten respondents (12%) always check for the presence of an EU address, a requirement for cosmetic products in Europe.


More information on sunscreen labels and tips for sensible sun exposure for adults and children can be found on the HPRA website.

The regulation of cosmetics in Ireland falls under the remit of the HPRA which investigates non-compliances with EU Regulations and any reported adverse events.


For Further Information:

Weber Shandwick                          (01) 679 8600

Barry Ryan / Siobhan Molloy           085 728 7326 / 086 817 5066                                    


About the research: A total sample of 1,000 people was surveyed with quotas set on gender, age, social class and region to achieve a sample aligned with national population. This study was carried out by Amárach Research on behalf of the HPRA. The omnibus survey was completed fully online during 9 to 13 May, 2016.

Amount: The HPRA advises that the average sized adult should be using, at the very least, six full teaspoons of sun cream in order to give the protection indicated on the product label. Using quantities less than this will decrease the SPF/UVA protection of the product. For children, the minimum amount of sun cream is based on factors including height and weight of the child. Sun cream should always be applied 20 minutes before exposure to the sun and reapplied at a minimum of every two hours.

Suncream Advice Image


The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) protects and enhances public health and animal health by regulating medicines, medical devices and other health products. The products under its remit include human and veterinary medicines, medical devices, blood and blood components, tissues and cells, organs for transplantation and cosmetics.

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