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11 May 2021

Media release: $63 million fraud committed by sunscreen test lab

The owner of a US lab that tested sunscreen products sold in New Zealand has pleaded guilty to falsifying results.

Last week, the owner of New York-based AMA Laboratories admitted defrauding customers and causing sunscreens to be marketed on the basis of false lab reports.

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said test reports from AMA Laboratories had been used by many manufacturers to justify the SPF claims for sunscreens sold to Kiwi consumers.

“For many years, manufacturers sent us test reports from AMA Labs when our tests found their sunscreens weren’t up to standard. Manufacturers continued to rely on AMA Labs’ results despite our tests showing products failed to meet their label claims.

"With all the attention on this issue, it isn’t reasonable for a manufacturer to maintain that an AMA Lab report is good evidence its product provides the protection claimed on the label. Consumers have been deceived.”

In a country with melanoma rates as high as New Zealand, Kiwis are entitled to expect better, Duffy said.

A statement issued on 4 May 2021 by the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York said AMA Lab owner Gabriel Letizia Jr had “schemed for decades to defraud customers”.

From 1987 to April 2017, Letizia and senior staff defrauded customers of more than $63 million ($US46m). Letizia is now facing up to seven years in prison. Four former AMA employees have previously pleaded guilty in connection with the fraud.

Duffy said any manufacturer that’s relied on reports from AMA Labs should urgently retest its products.

In Consumer NZ’s latest test, the following brands relied on results from AMA Labs to support their SPF claims:

  • Ecosol Water Shield Sunscreen SPF50+
  • Natural Instinct Invisible Natural Sunscreen SPF30
  • Sukin Suncare Sheer Touch Facial Sunscreen Untinted SPF30.

Last month, Consumer NZ lodged a complaint with the Commerce Commission asking it to investigate sunscreens that failed to meet SPF claims.

Consumer NZ is calling for a mandatory standard that requires companies to regularly test their sunscreens at accredited labs.