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6 September 2022

Slip, slop - slap on the wrist

Sunscreen company pleads guilty after Consumer NZ complaint

Australian skincare company Ego Pharmaceuticals has pleaded guilty to two charges under the Fair Trading Act (FTA), for making unsubstantiated claims on two sunscreens.

The guilty plea comes after the Commerce Commission opened an investigation following a Consumer NZ complaint. The complaint was that Ego Sunsense Sensitive Invisible SPF50+ and Ego Sunsense Ultra SPF50+ failed to provide the very high protection claimed. Consumer NZ’s independent testing in 2018 and 2019 found both products only provided moderate protection.

Consumer NZ Chief Executive Jon Duffy said at the time of testing, Ego Pharmaceuticals provided Consumer with test results showing the sunscreens met their claimed SPF.  Both certificates were from AMA Laboratories – a sunscreen-testing facility in the US. In 2021, the owner of AMA admitted defrauding customers and causing sunscreens to be marketed on the basis of false lab reports.

The case is now before the courts and sentencing is scheduled for 26 October 2022. 

“We’re pleased with the outcome,” Duffy said. “For many years, companies sent us test reports from AMA Labs when our tests found they weren’t up to standard.”

On Thursday, the Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Act becomes law. Sunscreens will be regulated under the Fair Trading Act (FTA) and it will be mandatory for products to meet the Australian and New Zealand sunscreen standard. Companies that breach the requirements face fines of up to $600,000.  

Duffy said while this is good news for the public, Consumer believes regulating sunscreens under the FTA should only be an interim measure. The organisation wants sunscreens regulated as a therapeutic product (not a cosmetic), which would bring New Zealand in line with Australia.  

“Complying with the standard also isn’t enough,” he said. “Sunscreens need to be tested regularly to ensure different batches provide the claimed protection, which the standard doesn’t require. Consumer has been testing sunscreens for many years and finds companies are sometimes relying on tests that are several years old to support their label claims.”  

Every year, Consumer independently tests sunscreens. In our latest round of testing, only eight of the 21 tested sunscreens met their SPF label claim and the requirements for broad-spectrum protection.

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