WHY KOREAN SUNSCREENS CAN’T BE SOLD IN AUSTRALIA (YET!)
Those of us who live Down Under know that Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, so sunscreen is a key part of our daily skincare routines.
Korean (and Asian sunscreens in general) are beloved by beauty lovers all over the world for their cosmetically elegant formulas that don’t leave a white cast and blend well with makeup. Unfortunately, they’re not as easy to get our hands on as we’d like, especially in Australia.
Today, we’re exploring why Korean sunscreens can’t be sold in Australia…but it’s not for the reasons you might think!
WHAT IS SUNSCREEN?
Although it probably goes without saying, sunscreen is used to protect skin from the harmful rays of the sun. The products themselves contain substances that either absorb or reflect the sun’s UV rays and prevent most of it from penetrating the skin and damaging skin cells.
In Australia, thanks to our extra harsh UV factor, the sunscreens we use need to be safe and effective in order to prevent skin cancer and sun damage.
REGULATION OF SUNSCREEN IN AUSTRALIA
In Australia, the sale of sunscreens is regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (the “TGA“), which is similar to America’s FDA. The TGA classifies sunscreens as products that are “primarily used for protection from UV radiation and have an SPF of 4 or more”. In addition, the TGA also regulates the sale of moisturisers that contain sunscreen with an SPF greater than 15.
The TGA requires that in order to be sold in Australia, sunscreen products be tested to determine their SPF, which is printed on the label. Only approved ingredients can be included in sunscreens, and each of these ingredients has been assessed for safety.
Before a sunscreen can be legally marketed in Australia, it needs to be included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (the “ARTG“), a link to which can be found here.
In short, this is the reason why Korean sunscreens (or at least, none that we know of!) are able to legally be sold in Australia – yet. At present, none of them are included on the ARTG.
SUNSCREEN TESTING IN AUSTRALIA
As you might expect from a country that has some of the harshest rays in the world, it is not a simple process to apply to have a product included on the ARTG. In fact, Australia is well known for being one of the most difficult countries in the world for a product to pass testing.
Sunscreens must be manufactured by a TGA approved manufacturing facility, and can only include TGA approved ingredients – each of which must be assessed for safety.
In addition, sunscreens must comply with the Australian Regulatory Guidelines, which include requirements to reproduce SPF test results, undertake water resistance tests and stability testing, comply with manufacture and quality control conditions, and obtain permits to use new ingredients. This is in addition to a laundry list of other requirements. In 2012, the TGA made changes to how sunscreen products were authorised for supply in Australia. The move incorporated labelling with a rating of up to SPF 50+, setting stringent requirements for ‘broad spectrum performance’ sunscreen. ‘Broad spectrum performance’ means the sunscreen also protects against UVA rays. To reach that requirement, the UVA level must be at one third of the SPF level.
In short, companies pay a fortune to have their SPF products tested in order to be able to sell them in Australia. It’s a massive investment of both time and many and there aren’t too many companies who can afford to make this investment with a guaranteed pay off. Banana Boat, one popular local maker of TGA-approved sunscreens claims that it takes “about three years” for them to bring a new sunscreen product to the Australian market. Other companies, such as Zoe Foster-Blake’s “Go-To” skincare, recently attempted to release a cosmetically elegant sunscreen to the Australian market, but in the end it was only approved for a mere 15+ SPF sun protection – nowhere near enough to be used for a day at the beach.
On the one hand, having such strict regulations is great because it ensures that all sunscreens that hit our shores have been SPF tested by their producer and that the companies can be held legally accountable for any failures. On the other hand, it means that the process for introducing new products to Australia is much more difficult. This means that Australian-approved sunscreens tend to rely on old chemicals like nano titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to provide sun protection, which are not as cosmetically elegant as newer types of sunscreen ingredients.
Australian-approved sunscreen ingredients
This is the official list of Australian-approved active ingredients for sunscreen:
- Benzylidene camphor sulfonic acid
- Butyl methoxy dibenzoylmethane
- Camphor benzalkonium methosulfate
- Diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate
- Disodium phenyl dibenzimidazole tetrasulfonate
- Drometrizole trisiloxane
- Isoamyl methoxy-cinnamate
- 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Methylene bis-benzo-triazolyl-tetramethyl-butylphenol
- Octyl methoxy-cinnamate
- Octyl salicylate
- Octyl triazone
- Padimate O
- PEG-25 PABA
- Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid
- Sulisobenzone sodium
- Titanium dioxide
- Triethanolamine salicylate
- Tris-biphenyl triazine
- Zinc oxide
SUNSCREEN TESTING IN KOREA
In Korea, companies have far better access to more sunscreen ingredients to work with, which is a result of the faster moving regulations. The approval process for them is much quicker, meaning newer and innovative sunscreen formulas improve on issues that the older formulas have.
Korean beauty brand also measure sunscreen protection differently – in PA rather than SPF. PA is based on a persistent pigmentation darkening test, which measures the multiple increase of UVA a person can theoretically be exposed to before their skin starts to tan (or darken).
A common observation of many Korean sunscreens is that they feel different, particularly on the face as they feel less chalky and heavy and don’t leave a white cast.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
In short, until a Korean Beauty company is willing to submit their sunscreen to the testing processes in Australia and invest both the significant time and money that would be required to satisfy the regulators that their products live up to their claims, we aren’t currently able to sell or market them in Australia.
This doesn’t mean that Korean sunscreen products don’t do what they say (i.e. provide sun protection), it’s just that they aren’t allowed to make these claims here in Australia without having first gone through the regulatory requirements to do so.
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