Johannesburg - People who put their trust in the effectiveness of some locally- manufactured sunscreens are at risk of burning because the products are “not optimal”.

The Cancer Association of SA (Cansa) has admitted that it endorses substandard sunscreens that have been found lacking when it comes to offering proper protection against harmful sun rays.

It is unable to name the specific products concerned due to “contractual obligations” with the laboratory that made the findings.

This was uncovered by investigative magazine noseweek, which reports in its August issue that Cansa commissioned tests on most SA-manufactured sunscreens.

In numerous cases, the end results revealed that the products were “not optimal in providing protection from UVA rays”.

On Monday, Dr Carl Albrecht, head of research at Cansa, confirmed that Cansa is barred from publishing the results of the product tests it commissioned.

According to the noseweek report, the laboratory that did the tests was Future Cosmetics, which allegedly insisted on the restraining clause because some manufacturers whose products were to be tested were its clients.

Future Cosmetics did not want to alienate its clients and lose out on business if the shortcomings of its clients’ products were made public by Cansa.

Albrecht said Cansa had no choice but to sign the clause. “It was a choice of something or nothing. No signature, no testing. [There is] no other place to do testing in South Africa.”

To walk away with no tests, he said, would have been irresponsible because no one else was carrying them out.

However, Cansa was not entirely comfortable with the idea of not publishing the results of the tests.

“Withholding results cuts against the grain. We believe in publishing. But the results will be used for one-on-one interactions with the manufacturers as they need to be convinced to reformulate… Sunscreens must be adequate by the end of March 2013 or forfeit Cansa endorsement,” he said.

A new SA standard will come into effect on that date.

Albrecht said this was the first time they had been asked to sign a confidentiality clause.

He said that at present, the public did not know which sunblocks were substandard as there was no marking. The best option was to use more sunblock than usual to increase its capability in case it was one of those that was found to be sub-optimal.

Cansa said that since 2005, all sunscreens with the Cansa Seal of Recognition had to give protection against UVA and UVB radiation in a ratio of 0.4/1.

Cansa claims that recent research, however, has found an increased correlation between UVA exposure and the onset of malignant melanoma or skin cancer, and non-optimal UVA protection provided by existing sunscreens.

Cansa told noseweek that while the SA Bureau of Standards developed standards for sunscreens in SA, the industry remained self-regulatory, with no one enforcing the law. Cansa could not force manufacturers to increase the UVA-absorbing capacity of their products. - The Star