Burning issue: How the COVID-19 pandemic is putting pressure on sunscreen testing processes

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting pressure on sunscreen testing processes. [Getty Images]
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting pressure on sunscreen testing processes. [Getty Images]

Related tags COVID-19 Sunscreen testing

COVID-related delays and demand for planet-safe products are among the challenges that sunscreen makers will have to tackle in terms of testing in 2021.

John Staton, the Scientific Adviser of Eurofins cosmetics and personal care solar testing facilities, noted that testing sunscreen typically comes with certain challenges brands have to be prepared to take on.

“At this point in time, there's really no option but to test [SPF] on human backs and then there are some in vitro methods under development at ISO. It also involves broad spectrum tests, which can be in vivo, and there are some other methods now for in vitro that most companies would use because it’s cheaper to perform and quicker.”

Eurofins is an international laboratory provider that offers a full range of testing services for various industries, including beauty and personal care.

According to Staton, one of the biggest obstacles is getting enough volunteers to perform the SPF test. “The first challenge is getting test subjects because for any clinical study you need to have access to human volunteers. Normally, you’d look at around 10 subjects.”

This hurdle has been further exacerbated by delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With COVID-19 that’s become quite difficult especially for all-day testing. The test subjects can be in the lab for a long time, so I don’t think there are many people that are keen to do that, even in Australia, where we virtually have no COVID-19,” ​said Staton.

He estimates that the delays can now take up to six months. “That’s excessively long. Typically, to run a study it will take four to six weeks.”

Staton advised brands to take these delays into account, emphasising that choosing to rush a product to market would be risky.

“You have to plan ahead, well ahead, to make sure the testing gets done before [the product] goes to market. Marketing people usually want to get products out on the market as quickly as possible. That maybe would introduce the temptation to take shortcuts – this is not recommended.”

The eco trend

In the past few years, Eurofins has observed more brands, especially in the US and Europe, putting in requests for tests that prove their products do not negatively impact the environment.

“We also receive many requests for ecotoxicity and biodegradability test to evaluate not just sunscreen products, but other cosmetic products as well because brands would like to have validated claims to say their products are safe for the environment, so this is definitely a trend,”​ said Sarah Bachir-Levy marketing manager, cosmetics, Eurofins.

With even more consumers zeroing in on sustainability post-outbreak, Bachir-Levy believes that this trend will catching on in the Asia Pacific region. She added that ‘reef safe’​ claims were particularly popular for sunscreen products.

Staton, who is based in Australia, told us that he has only come across one ‘reef safe’ sunscreen that has performed the full suite of recommended tests.

“It seems very confusing because brands can make a reef safe claim based on the absence of certain actives. That’s an issue that’s calledextrapolated claims, that’s a very low-level claim and any regulator will question extrapolation.”

Even then, he believes the jury is still out when it comes to sunscreen ingredients and their relation to ocean pollution.

“The reality is that when you talk to any of the cancer councils around the world, they will tell you there is no evidence to say that any of those risks come anywhere near the risk of not using sunscreen.”

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