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.
Today, we’re exploring why Korean sunscreens can’t be sold in Australia…but it’s not for the reasons you might think!
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.
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.
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. Makeupis excluded.
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.
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. These 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. There are 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 changes to labelling, including for sunscreens with a rating of up to SPF 50+.
They also set 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.
Companies pay a fortune to have their SPF products tested to be able to sell them in Australia. It’s a massive investment of both time and money, and there aren’t too many companies who can afford to make this investment without 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, including Zoe Foster-Blake’s “Go-To” skincare, have attempted to release a cosmetically elegant sunscreen to the Australian market, only to be given a mere 15+ SPF sun protection rating – 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. It also means these companies can be held legally accountable for any failures.
On the other hand, it means that the process for introducing new sunscreen 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.
This is the official list of Australian-approved active ingredients for sunscreen:Bemotrizinol
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 can 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 by many is that Korean sunscreens feel different, as they feel less chalky and heavy and don’t leave a white cast.
Until a Korean Beauty company is willing to submit their sunscreen to the sunscreen testing processes in Australia, Korean sunscreens aren’t legally available for sale here.
Doing this would require significant time and money to satisfy Australian regulators that Korean products live up to their stated claims.
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 yet here in Australia. At present, none of the Korean sunscreens that we know of have attempted to go through the TGA application process.
Our Advice? Don’t try to bypass Australian regulations by buying sunscreens overseas. Stick to TGA approved sunscreens for sun protection in Australia. The TGA system may not be perfect, but companies who have passed through the regulatory process here in Australia are at least subject to ongoing monitoring once they are on the market. The same cannot be said for sunscreens that aren’t even registered here.
Have you used Korean sunscreens before? Let us know your thoughts on this issue in the comments!
We put the the call out to our community and asked them for their FAVOURITE Aussie-approved sunscreens that are listed on the ARTG. We've published a handy guide to the Top 15, which you can download here.
"Sunscreen is the number one anti-aging product you can use"- Dr Davin Lim
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