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 has 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 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.

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 (