Preventing sunburn but leading to greater chance of cancer-is sunscreen good or bad for you?
How to prevent sunburn safely? Is physical sunscreen safer than chemical one? Is high SPF all you need for outdoor activities?

Test-it™ Introduction

Sunscreen is a must-have item if you love sunbathing but worry about sunburn. On a scorching summer day, sun cream with high SPF protects your skin from tan and sunburn by blocking UV radiation-but is it harmful to your health?

To find out which sunscreen products are safe to use, Test-it™ picked 51 popular sun cream products and joined hands with professional laboratory to test their safety using the world leading bio-testing technology Testing 2.0. It rated 16 samples as Green Fish (Excellent), eight samples as Yellow Fish (Basic) and 27 samples as Red Fish (Sub-optimal).

The test found that samples of Asian brands are generally safer than those of European and US brands. It also revealed that the higher the SPF, the less safe are the products. Physical sunscreen is better than chemical one in terms of safety, and nearly 90% of chemical sunscreen samples failed the test and were rated Red Fish.

According to World Health Organization and United Nations, choosing the wrong product could cause cancers, infertility, precocious puberty, obesity and neurological disorders. Test-it™ provide clear, direct test reports with lifestyle tips. Equipped with scientific and objective information, consumers can make safer purchasing choices.

Stay tuned for more interesting facts.

Interesting Facts

The history of sun protection can be traced back to ancient Greece, when Olympic athletes put olive oil on their naked body to prevent sun burn.

During the Elizabethan era, women went as far as covering their faces with ugly masks to prevent getting tanned.

Clouds do not block UVA, hence sun protection is important in any weather and seasons.

Protect your lips from the sun as ultraviolet radiation causes dry, chapped and dark lips.

Sun protection is not just for people with light skin tone. Africans can get sun tan too.

(Stéphane Mbia Etoundi, a foreign player of Hebei China Fortune in the Chinese Super League division, did not use sun cream since he’s an African and was shocked by his tanned skin.)

Ultraviolet light not only tans your skin but also causes freckles.

Test-it™ Reports

Test-it™ Standards

Traditional chemical Test 1.0 and existing regulations only reflect the basic requirements for market entry, not the products’ actual safety for consumption. Test-it™ applies first-in-the-world fish embryo toxicity (FET) test technology (Testing 2.0), enabling an effective and thorough examination on both acute and chronic toxicity in the tested products (effective up to several thousands of known toxicants to humans). We test and classify global products into three categories (Red, Yellow and Green Fish) through a comprehensive test system and scientific statistic analysis. We provide clear, direct test reports with lifestyle tips. Testing method varies with products. For the sunscreen test, the transgenic medaka embryo testing for chronic toxicants, zebrafish embryo testing for acute toxicants and ingredients check are applied.

Good performance under screening of acute toxicity, chronic toxicity and ingredients. Consumers can rest assured that the products are safe for purchase.

Meets the safety baselines under screening of acute toxicity, chronic toxicity and ingredients. Consumers are recommended to purchase with caution.

Below standard under screening of acute toxicity, chronic toxicity and ingredients. Consumers are recommended to purchase with extra caution.

Green Fish List
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Test-it™ Discovery

1.Price performance battle: expensive sun cream is not necessarily better and price does not equal safety.

Samples are classified into high-priced, mid-priced and low-priced ones and the results are as follows:

Among the 51 samples collected, the most expensive one costs 20.6HKD/ml, which is around 52 times of the cheapest one that costs 0.4HKD/ml. The average price of the samples is 5HKD/ml.

For sunscreen products, price does not equal safety, yet cheap ones can be harmful too. Over half of the samples in the low-priced and high-priced categories were disappointingly rated Red Fish. On the contrary, mid-priced samples had satisfying safety performance.

With so many products at different prices to choose from, it’s hard for consumers to make the right decision when buying sunscreen. This is why the Green Fish Recommendation List is so important!

2.Product origin battle: Asian brands are safer than European, US and Australian brands.

Test-it™ conducted test on brands mainly from Asia, Europe and the US, and Australia.

For the 21 samples of Asian brands, 13 (62%) samples were rated Green Fish, 4 (19%) were rated Yellow Fish and 4 (19%) were rated Red Fish.

for the 27 samples of European and US brands, only three (11%) samples were rated Green Fish, four (15%) were rated Yellow Fish but as many as 20 (74%) were rated Red Fish.

only three samples were selected from Australian brands. All of them failed the bio-testing of Test-itTM and were rated Red Fish.

More than half of the sunscreen samples failed the safety performance test. In terms of product origins, Asian brands are safer to use than European, US and Australian brands.

Surprisingly, Red Fish took up an unnervingly high proportion of European, US and Australian samples. Thus, consumers are advised to be cautious when purchasing sun cream.

3.Comparison of Asian brands: Japanese and Korean brands are safer.

Samples of Asian brands comprised products from China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.

Overall speaking, Asian brands performed better. In particular, products of Japanese and Korean brands were safer.

4.Comparison of European and US brands: Disappointing overall performance.

Samples of European and US brands mainly comprised products from the US, France and Germany.

US and European brands under test had low safety rating in general. A well-known sun cream was even found to contain a high level of estrogenic endocrine disruptors which is comparable to contraceptives. Worryingly, all German samples failed the bio-testing.

5. Physical sunscreen is the safest choice in three types of sun protection products.

Sun cream can be categorised into three types, namely physical sunscreen, chemical sunscreen and hybrid sunscreen (physical + chemical). Set out below is their safety performance:

Samples of physical sunscreen had remarkable performance in terms of safety: four samples (80%) were rated Green Fish and one sample (20%) was rated Yellow Fish.

the safety performance of chemical sunscreen samples was worrying: only two samples (11%) were rated Green Fish but as many as 17 samples (89%) were rated Red Fish.

the performance of hybrid sunscreen was also disappointing: five samples (28%) were rated Green Fish, four samples (22%) were rated Yellow Fish and nine samples (50%) were rated Red Fish.

[Sun protection tips]

  • Physical sunscreen

    Physical sunscreen products contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Titanium dioxide can block UVB and short-wave UVA, while zinc oxide can block UVB and UVA of all wavelengths. Physical sunscreen is safer to use as these two substances are less toxic and non-irritating. However, it has thick texture and leaves a white cast.

  • Chemical sunscreen

    Chemical sunscreen, as known as sun screening agent, contains active ingredients like benzophenone-3, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor and octinoxate. Long-term use of chemical sunscreen may easily affect the endocrine system and increase the risk of reproductive system disease. It is therefore recommended to avoid using sun cream with the above ingredients.

  • Hybrid sunscreen

    Hybrid sunscreen combines physical and chemical sunscreen. While physical sunscreen is more effective, chemical sunscreen has longer effect and better texture. However, mixing sun screening ingredients may cause chemical reactions that are harmful to health.

It is recommended to use physical sunscreen together with sun protecting tools for outdoor activities, like wear long sleeve clothes or use an umbrella after applying sun cream.

6.20 types of estrogenic endocrine disruptors were found in chemical sun cream samples.

Nearly 90% of chemical sunscreen samples were found to contain 20 types of estrogenic endocrine disruptors in the test. The most common ingredients which are harmful are listed as follows:

Benzophenone-3 (found in 12 samples), 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (found in two samples) and octinoxate (found in 20 samples).

The above chemicals are estrogenic endocrine disruptors that have health effects as they are readily absorbed through skin and transported to different body parts via bloodstream. For instances, benzophenone-3 can be the cause of skin allergy; 4-methylbenzylidene camphor can lead to hypothyroidism, resulting in hair loss and fatigue in adults and slow brain and physical development in children.Octinoxate can get into breast milk through the bloodstream and be absorbed by babies, which will affect their health.

Long term exposure to these chemicals upsets metabolism and increases the risk of cancer. The reproductive function may also be impaired.

Test-it™ Tips:

Although chemical sunscreen blocks ultraviolet light and protects skin, its active ingredients affect the endocrine system and increase the risk of cancer development. Therefore, the safety of sun cream products must be considered along with their effectiveness in sun protection.

[Review] As pointed out in the BB cream report published by Test-it™, regarding BB cream with SPF, the safety performance decreases significantly as the SPF increases. It was also highlighted in the report that, sunscreen products with SPF 15 can block 93% of UVB radiation, those with SPF 30 can block 97% and those with SPF 45 can block 98%. In other words, higher SPF does not always mean better sun protection effect and products with SPF 30 or above have similar sun blocking ability.

Test-it™ Q&A


Conventional chemical test 1.0 and the basic regulations only reflects the basic requirement for a product’s market entry. The mission of Test-it™ is to further improve product safety with world leading technology Testing 2.0. Though horizontal analysis in similar products, Test-it™ provides consumers with information and data for better consumer choices. Products are categorised as Green Fish, Yellow Fish and Red Fish according to test results.

Test-it™ has developed a high standard as a third party consumer goods evaluation platform. Developed by an experienced research and development team and an advisory board of toxicology experts from 12 countries, Test-it™ references from the global standard of China, EU, the U.S., Japan, WHO and OECD. With the application of fish embryo toxicity (FET) test technology (Testing 2.0), The standard of Test-it™ could be higher than the existing regulations.

Sampling Method

Market research and product

Test-it selected 51 best selling suncream brands by analysing sales and attention span from the Test-it fans group. The research is conducted in both e-commerce platform and physical store.

  • E-commerce market research

  • Retailer market research

  • Sales volume and popularity

  • Selected products

Purchasing Method and Channel

All tested samples were purchased by Test-it as a common customer. Samples were purchased from the brands’ official beauty counters and their globally recognised sales channels ( official flagship stores ) on major E-commerce platforms ( JD, Tmall, Koala, Amazon) . All sample were purchased anonymously.In order to maintain neutrality and objectiveness, Test-it reports will not accept products submitted by manufactures.

  • Represent common consumers

  • Reliable sales channel

  • Anounymous purchase

  • No manufacturer sampling

Test Method

1、 Transgenic medaka embryo testing for chronic toxicants

2、Zebrafish embryo testing for acute toxicants

3、Ingredients check

Vitargent adopts an exclusive ingredients screening system comparing restricted and high risk ingredients regulated by the CODEX Alimentarius of the WHO&FAO, USFDA, EU, Food and Drug Administration of Japan and China to further enhance product safety.

Ingredient Screening: Products must not contain any chemicals that are associated with health complications, eco-toxicity, or contamination by scientific safety evaluations, or are banned by the following governmental agencies and authoritative bodies.

US: USFDA’s ‘Summary of colour additives for use in the United States in foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices’, ‘Prohibited & Restricted Ingredients’, and 'Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS)'.

EU: European Commission Nos. 1333/2008, 1223/2009, 1129/2011, and 1130/2011, and Candidate List of substances of very high concern for Authorisation (SVHC) by European Chemicals Agency (2017).

China: China FDA’s ‘Safety and Technical Standard for Cosmetics’ (2015), and 'National food safety standards: food additive standard (GB2760-2014).

Japan: Japan’s ‘Standards for Cosmetics’ (2000), and 'Standard for use of food additives (2017)

WHO&FAO: CODEX Alimentarius

Results Analyzing Method

Category Medaka embryo testing for chronic toxicants Zebrafish embryo testing for acute toxicants Ingredients check
Pass WHO guideline on Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) No LC50 (50% fish death) detected at highest concentration No banned or high concernedingredients

Pass WHO guideline on Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) LC50 detected within highest centration to Vitargent category-based reference line No banned but contain high concerned ingredients

Fail (reading exceed ADI or over 50% fish death at Vitargent category-based reference line ) LC50 detected below Vitargent category-based reference line Contain banned ingredients

Selected Awards

Hong Kong Technological Achievement Award(2014) Davos Global Innovation Pioneer (2015) Geneva International Inventions 43rd Grand Prix Winner (2015) World Intellectual Property Organization Gold Medal (2016) APEC & GIC Future Maker (2016) Unreasonable Impact (2017)


  • 1. This report is conducted in random sampling method with laboratory standard operating procedures. All samples were purchased by our staff members through normal sales channels as a common customer.
  • 2. Green Fish indicates excellent quality. Fair Price indicates quality products priced equivalent to or below HKD$105. Quality Great China indicates quality products from the Greater China Region. High Sun Protection indicates quality products with a SPF equivalent to or higher than 30.
  • 3. Green Fish indicates products show excellent quality in this test, listed in no particular order.
  • 4. All tests are conducted in Vitargent’s laboratories in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Belgium.
  • 5. This test was conducted under the principle of consumer goods comparison. The test results only indicate quality of the very sample. They do not reflect quality of other products under the same brand ( same or different models ) nor the products’ quality in different batches. The test results are provided solely for your personal, non-commercial use. No promotion or recommendation of any products are intended. By no means should the results be taken as medical advice. Consultation with doctors and healthcare professionals are recommended before employing the test results. The test results are not to be mistaken as medical advice for diagnosis, treatment, or recommendations for health conditions. We are not responsible or liable for anyone using the results of this report.
  • 6. The test results are provided solely for your personal, non-commercial consumer reference. The references of product qualities and recommendations hold no legal validity nor guarantee. Any business and consumer decision made by users is an independent action on their behalves. We are not responsible or liable for any dispute caused.
  • 7. You may not derive for commercial use or promotional actives any data from this report in any corporate and organisations, unless you obtain prior permission from Test-it™.
  • 8. All information and data in the report are dated to 17th July, 2017.Information are updated constantly according to the testing results released by other authorities.
  • 9.For more information, please see Terms, Conditions and User Agreement.
From · Test-it™· 2017/08/17