Australian SPF Ratings: What You Need To Know

With what we know about sun damage, it's more important now than ever to get sunscreen right. But why are there differences between Australian products with SPF, and the rest of the world? Let's talk about it.


Everyone knows that sun protection is super important, especially under the harsh Australian sun.

A great sunscreen product will protect you from sun damage, which is one of the biggest factors in premature ageing. So, why does Australian sunscreens have to be so much more complicated?


There’s nothing worse than finding out about an interesting product with sunscreen, only to discover that the SPF doesn’t match what you thought it was.

We’ve all been there - you read some reviews from a blogger about a product, only to buy it in Australia and discover the SPF rating is lower than you thought, or there’s none mentioned. And no, it’s probably not a different formula - let’s explore SPF ratings in Australia.


Why are SPF ratings sometimes different in Australia (compared to overseas)?


  • If a product contains sunscreen, products are required to register with the TGA, which is Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration. You can find out at this link how the TGA regulates sunscreens.

  • When products are imported, they may no longer advertise the sunscreen properties of the products.

  • If you’re relying on the SPF included in a product, it’s important to ensure you’re using an SPF product sold within Australia so that you’re sure it is a high quality, verified level of sun protection.

  • All sunscreens bought in Australia will advertise an SPF rating.
    If the product does not advertise an SPF, even if it has SPF elsewhere in the world, it means that it’s not approved to be advertised as a sunscreen, or it means that the product has not gone through TGA to be approved as a sunscreen.
    Either way - don't risk it!

Freshly applied sunscreen, looking up

Why aren't all cosmetic products regulated by the TGA?


Because sunscreens provide essential protection from the sun, they’re considered a therapeutic good, which are all regulated by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration, or TGA.

The TGA organises sunscreen products into two types, Primary and Secondary sunscreens.

It used to be that the TGA would only regulate primary sunscreens, however now the TGA regulates anything that makes SPF claims.


What is a primary sunscreen?

This is a skin protection product which has a primary function of protecting from the sun. Products can still be considered a primary sunscreen even if they contain other skin-friendly ingredients like aloe-vera or vitamins.


What is a secondary sunscreen?

This is a cosmetic product that also contains sunscreen as a benefit, but is not its primary purpose. A good example of this would be a foundation, or makeup primer.

Generally speaking, you want your sun protection to come from a 'real' sunscreen - consider it a nice bonus when your foundation or primer has sun protection, but please don't rely on it!


Sunscreen applied to woman's cheek


What does SPF mean?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The number behind it, for instance SPF30 or SPF50, is a little bit more complicated.

SPF is a measure of how much time it takes for UVB rays (responsible for sunburn) to burn the skin, compared to skin that has no sunscreen.


In other words, SPF tells you how much time the product can be expected to work for, but only compared to how resilient bare skin is to the sun.

The example that the TGA gives is that if it takes 300 seconds for the skin to burn under UVB rays, and bare skin takes 10 seconds, the SPF rating will reflect 300/10, so SPF30.


What does the plus after the SPF rating mean in Australia?


The plus in the SPF rating indicates that the actual protection is higher than the number indicates.

For instance, a rating of SPF30+ will indicate that the SPF is higher than SPF30, while SPF50+ indicates that it’s higher than SPF50.


Why are Australian SPF ratings so different?

Outside of Australia, it’s not too uncommon to see SPF ratings well above SPF100. It's sort of weird that Australian sunscreens wouldn't be the strongest in the world, right?


Well - Australian sunscreens are actually some of the most consistently well-regulated. Globally, there's a lot of different definitions for sunscreen, so it's important to choose a sunscreen product in line with Australian regulations.

As long as you're choosing an SPF30+ or SPF50+, and applying sunscreen correctly, it's important to remember that the difference between SPF30 and SPF50, is that SPF30 blocks out 96.7% of UVB, while SPF50 blocks out 98% of UVB.

This means that for best results against the sun, you should focus on correct & consistent application, rather than just the SPF rating.


As long as you’re applying a liberal amount of sunscreen that is sold from an Australian store, you’ll be unlikely to notice better protection by importing a sunscreen with a greater SPF.


Squeezing out sunscreen onto hand


What does the PA+ symbol mean, and why isn't it always on Australian sunscreens?

Just like SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, PA repesents the sunscreen's performance against UVA. This is the ageing proportion of ultra-violet light. Compared to PA, SPF measures UVB, or burning.

Now - the PA ranking existing on products might make it sound like it's a universally accepted ranking system. Unfortunately - PA isn't a universally agreed upon method of ranking!


Because UVA (PA) measures ageing, it's harder to measure this in a laboratory setting, compared to UVB (SPF) which is more straightforward.



So if PA rankings aren't universally accepted... why leave them on the product packaging?


The TGA has chosen to leave this information on purely so customers can be informed and to ensure that Australians have access to a wide range of products.

Just because something isn't universally agreed upon, doesn't mean it's not a helpful indicator!

So yes - still choose a product with higher PA rankings where it's available to you!


What are the best Australian sunscreens?


Now that you know a bit more about how TGA, SPF and PA ratings work, and how Australian sunscreen ratings differ from overseas, let's take a look at some home-grown sunscreens.


Best Australian Moisturiser with Sunscreen

If you're looking for a primary sunscreen - a product that primarily functions as a sunscreen - we have two recommendations if you're looking for Australian sunscreen products that really work:

  1. If your skin is normal, combination or oily and you want high protection for daily wear, you can't beat asap Moisturising Daily Defense SPF50.
    For the price, it's great value - and bonus, it will replace your daily moisturiser, with hyaluronic acid to lock in hydration.

  2. If your skin is dry and you need extra antioxidant protection to prevent the signs of ageing, Alpha-H Protection Plus Daily SPF50+ is an award winning sunscreen.
    It's rich in texture, and helps to both soothe and add glow to the complexion.
What about if you're looking for makeup products that contain sunscreen? As we've discussed, these are considered secondary sunscreens according to the TGA, which means that their primary function is cosmetic, and their secondary function is protective.
There aren't as many
So - how can you boost your sun protection with makeup products? By choosing some great products with SPF! We recommend you check out -
  1. For full coverage, natural every day wear, try the Jane Iredale Glow Time Full Coverage Mineral BB Cream
    It has SPF25, and incredible coverage!

  2. For sheer to medium coverage for every day in a travel-friendly compact, the MAKE UP FOR EVER Light Velvet Cushion Foundation is a must-have.
    With great SPF50, it's hard to beat.

  3. Dermalogica Age Smart Skin Perfect Primer SPF30 is the perfect all in one primer for those looking for something that blurs, hydrates, and protects against ageing.

It's a little bit complicated, but the bottom line is that if you're buying a sunscreen in Australia that mentions an SPF rating, it will have been through a process to ensure that you're getting great quality sun protection.

Try to aim to use an SPF30+ or higher as your main sunscreen, and your skin will thank you!

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