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30 November 2022

Slip, slop – slapped on the wrist

Sunscreen company receives hefty fine after Consumer NZ complaint

Australian skincare company Ego Pharmaceuticals has received a hefty fine of $280k for making unsubstantiated claims about the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of two of its sunscreens.

“It’s great to see the courts taking this behaviour so seriously,” said Consumer NZ Chief Executive Jon Duffy. “New Zealand has the highest melanoma rates in the world, and sunscreen is not something any of us can afford to gamble with.

“New Zealanders must be able to shop with confidence and trust that any sunscreen they buy provides the protection stated on the label. The fine imposed on Ego sends a strong message that sunscreen manufacturers will be held to account for dodgy dealings.”

The fine 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 level of protection claimed. Consumer NZ’s independent testing in 2018 and 2019 found both products only provided moderate protection.

Duffy said that 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.

In September this year, the Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Act became law. Sunscreens are now regulated under the Fair Trading Act (FTA) and it is now 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.

“We think New Zealanders would have far more protection if sunscreens were regulated as a therapeutic product (not a cosmetic), which would bring New Zealand in line with Australia .

“Complying with the standard isn’t enough,” he said. “Sunscreens need to be tested regularly to ensure different batches provide the claimed protection. The current standard doesn’t require regular testing. 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.”

Consumer regularly independently tests sunscreens. In its latest round of testing, only eight of the 21 tested sunscreens met their SPF label claims and the requirements for broad-spectrum protection.

“There have been some great consumer wins this year; seeing the courts hold Ego Pharmaceuticals to account, and the Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Act coming into force are huge leaps forward,” Duffy said.

“However, we want New Zealanders to have ultimate confidence they can trust their sunscreen and, we believe, regulating sunscreens as a therapeutic product is the only way to make that a reality.”

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Safer sunscreens

We’re all vulnerable to NZ’s harsh sun. However, with no regular testing required under the mandatory sunscreen standard, you can’t always trust what’s on the label.

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