European Sun Screen Protection Factors

Jun 13th, 2002, 06:21 AM
Bob Brown
Posts: n/a
European Sun Screen Protection Factors

I purchased a mountain screen sun screen in Switzerland that has a rating of 12. I asked my dermatologist how it compared with our SPF ratings but he was not sure. Do any of you who any idea if a rating of 12 is high or low? For example would a 12 be comparable to our 32? I gather that the factor must be relatively high because I smeared it on at high altitude and in full sun light. No redness appeared.
Another question of course appears. Are the ratings in Europe consist among different nations?
Jun 13th, 2002, 06:25 AM
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the numbers are the same whether in english or german. 12 isnt enough to provide any coverage. I am surprised that a dermatologist didn't know this and that he didn't tell you that 12 is very low...what do they call number 400 of a medical school graduating class? Doctor...
Jun 13th, 2002, 06:49 AM
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The COLIPA standard used throughout most of Europe is the same division factor used to compute SPF in the US; essentially, it's the multiple by which the product reduces the effects of sun exposure.

Since an SPF of 12 means that the effects of 3 hours in the sun with the product are about the same as the effects of being in the sun for 15 minutes without it, I'd would not agree that "12 isn't enough to provide any coverage".

This factor is only an estimate, though and doubling the factor does NOT halve the sun's effects -- an SPF of 24 is not twice as protective as an SPF of 12. Furthermore, anything about 30 is barely a detectable improvement over 30. So the SPF of 12 that you bought is something more than half as effective as an SPF of 32 would be. If you want really thorough protection, go for a zinc oxide barrier.
Jun 13th, 2002, 07:40 AM
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12 gives good protection if you are not prone to burning. I remember reading from some (surprise!!!!) women´s magazine that US and European SPF ratings are different. US products have numbers like 36 and 42, while stongest SPF in European products is something like 24, and that is usually in products meant for little babies with light skin.
Jun 13th, 2002, 09:21 AM
Bob Brown
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You know folks, it is responses to a straightforward question like most of those above that tend to irritate me. Why? They don't answer the question that was asked, they make a bunch of assumptions that have no logical basis in the context of the question that was proposed, and the responder(s) assuse(s) that he or she is talking to an idiot. All the while, the tone of the answer is condescending in a way that is equivalent to acting superior. I keep seeing it happen repeatedly onthis forum. I don't know if it is symptomatic of a national posture, or a common trait among those on this forum who think themselves empowered to answer, or a psychogenic urge to express oneselve in an ugly fasion while hiding behind the mask of anonymity, but slamming the asker has become the norm. Well this asker is slamming back!!

First, my dermatologist is not an ignorant moron. He knows quite well what an SPF of 12 is in the USA. What he was not know for sure of was if a rating of 12 on a European sun screen was the equal of a SPF 12 on ours. That is the reason I asked the question. What does a 12 on Swiss sun screen mean?

That was the question. And it is the question none of you answered with any degree of authority.

I was asking what a SPF of 12 meant, which one responder seemed to think it was. I also know at SPF factors mean. I live with the threat of skin cancer, and constantly review data on the efficacy of sun screens. So I know darn well what an SPF of 12 means.

Also, some of you felt the need to tell me that an SPF of 12 was not sufficient. Well, two factors here. First, we have yet to authoritatively establish that the two measurement scales are equivalentI told you I suffered no ill effects, even though I was at high altitude under a bright sun. That argues that the Swiss 12 is not the same as ours!!
Nor was protection efficacy involved in the question.

For those of you who might be curious, I was well up on a ridge top and did not have my usual sunscreen. I had enough SPF 48 with me to cover my face, ears, and neck. I used the only available product on my arms and hands.

I also know that some protection is better than none at all. Given the results I experienced, I conclude that a Swiss sun screen rating of 12 is more than an SPF of 12 purchased in the USA.
Had it not been, I would have had some redness because I have had enough experience with ratings of 12, 15 and 30 to know what to expect.

So essentially, the question was not answered with any good authority as to whether or not a Swiss 12 equals an American SPF of 12.
Jun 13th, 2002, 10:19 AM
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SPF is an international standard, SPF-12 means SPF-12 whether you purchase it in Switzerland, or in the States. You can check the websites of most major international manufacturers of sunscreen or cosmetic products if you require confirmation. (No slam intended.)
Jun 13th, 2002, 10:47 AM
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Bob, if you were a woman, I would call you a bitch.

You actually asked 3 questions, and right off I did answer your question about whether there's a standard for all of Europe; Yes, it's known as COLIPA. For some technical (but not too technical) details about this standard, please see

Three people, at least, explained that the ratings are the same. The fact that you experience smiliar protection from two products rated 12 and 48 could be attributed to a multitude of factors: the most likely is unequal applicationn due to different forms (creams vs. lotoins, etc.) or to the fact that you were trying to "stretch" your supply of the SPF 48 product. Second, the effective difference between otherwise equal products with such different SPFs is not as great as you seem to think.

The description I provided of what and SPF of 12 meant was primarily for the benefit of the prevoius respondent, who thought that an SPF of 12 was worthless. But it was also meant for you, since it ilustrates the fact that the definitions of SPF are the same in the US and Europe, despite your conviction otherwise.
Jun 13th, 2002, 12:12 PM
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I thought Jim's first response was courteous and informative and did not need Bob's rant in return.

In agreement with Jim's last point, SPFs are notoriously difficult to compare since the formulations of different sunscreens vary so much, so their effect once applied to the skin is different.

Also, there's some evidence that sunscreens don't protect against melanoma as well as they protect against sunburn and tanning (all that absorbed UV energy has to go somewhere - seems to head straight for the DNA).
Jun 13th, 2002, 02:55 PM
Bob Brown
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if defending one's self against put downs is being bitchy, then I am just that. People who ask questions on this forums routinely get put down and belittled and told they are ignorant.
The answer to my original question simply put is this:
A figure of 12 on a bottle of Swiss sun screen is equal to the USA factor of 12.
Similar if not identical standards apply.
End of discussion.
No further comment needed.
And whether or not the rant was "justified", I think it was because neither I nor anyone else likes to be told they are ignorant when they are not.
You may reply at your own good time, but my standards on this issue are absolute.
And, one more item, under the circumstances, a 12 was better than a 0!!

Jun 13th, 2002, 03:29 PM
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just came back from Cannes and i am as far as can be. I went to monprix and found a garnier 60 sun screen. It was the first time i have ever been able to stay out in the sun for 6 hours and not burn I actaully managed to get some tan. I have never seen a 60 sun screeen in the US, but this one was great.
Jun 13th, 2002, 03:52 PM
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You are awfully presumptuous for someone ragging on people only trying to help ... how are we to know where "our 32" refers to ... Argentina? Brasil? Iceland? Ireland? Canada? Let me take a guess....... the USA?
Jun 13th, 2002, 04:12 PM
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[ps - maybe his shrink is too]
Jun 13th, 2002, 11:46 PM
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I took a look at the various sunscreens being sold here in Brussels and most of them are put out by large, international companies, either cosmetic firms (Clarins, Clinique, etc.) or consumer divisions of big pharmas (RoC is a divison of J & J, for example) and they follow international standards. So a 32 in Switzerland is a 32 in the U.S. And it's true that 30 SPF is about as high as you really need to go--all those 45s and 60s are just fractionally more protective than a 30. HOWEVER, something I see more commonly in the European brands than in the U.S. (I was just back in the States, in Arizona and Florida, so did some comparison shopping) is a breakdown of overall blocking factor (BF) and UVA Factor on the label. For example, my Vichy Capital Soleil Mexoryl XL has an overall protective factor of 30 and a UVA factor of 16. Perhaps this is where some of the confusion is coming from.
For what it's worth, I read a study in one of the Euro medical journals last year that the best overall sunscreen was the RoC brand for children. But we like the Vichy spray lotion anyway.
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