Yes, Your Sunscreen’s SPF Could Be Lower (Way Lower) Than Promised
Instances like PuritoGate happen more often than you think
Two months ago, typing “Purito” into YouTube or Google’s search boxes would land you on a multitude of favorites videos, recommendation lists and round-ups of skinfluencer must-haves. Talked about by everyone from Hyram to Sarah Cheung to W Magazine, Purito’s Centella Green Level Unscented Sun seemed to tick all the boxes. A reasonable price tag. Lightweight and non-sticky. Suited for all skin types. No ghostly white cast. And, most importantly, an ideal sun protection factor of 50+.
It seemed that all was going well for the internet’s favorite sunscreen until INCIDecoder, an online platform for analyzing skincare ingredients, published an exposé spotlighting the product’s biggest flaw. The beloved sunscreen did not live up to its promised SPF, measuring in at SPF 19 instead of its advertised SPF 50.
Cue screams of horror from the beauty world.
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Following INCIDecoder’s claims, Insuk Ahn of the Korean Institute of Dermatological Sciences published a clinical trial report concluding that the Purito Centella Green Level Unscented Sun has an SPF of 28.4—better than INCIDecoder’s SPF 19, but still a good stretch away from what Purito advertises.
Why is it dangerous?
Objectively speaking, an SPF of 20 to 29 isn’t criminal. By definition, the sun protection factor measures how well (and how long) a product can protect the skin from sunburn-causing UVB rays. The number on an SPF rating represents how many times longer you can stay under the sun without getting burned while wearing the product, compared to the amount of time it would take without the product. To explain, here’s a little math: If your bare skin gets a sunburn after 10 minutes of sun exposure, using a product with SPF 20 would allow you to stay under the sun for 20 times longer than that duration (200 minutes). The problem isn’t so much how unprotected your skin is with a lower SPF; rather, the concern should be how often you need to reapply the product, which usually becomes a problem when you’ve got makeup on.
This information shouldn’t cause us to throw out our unfinished bottles of the stuff (don’t waste your products!). In fact, since we’ll be at home and bare-faced until further notice, constant reapplication shouldn’t be an issue. Set a reminder and you’re good.
The danger, however, remains for those with high skin sensitivity or a family history of skin cancer and melanoma. Skin cancer is more prevalent than all kinds of cancer combined—that alone should be a reason for cosmetics companies to see their claims through.
Is it a K-beauty problem?
Before pointing fingers, it’s important to recognize that this isn’t the first time this has happened—and it isn’t an issue exclusive to Asian cosmetics. Sunscreen is arguably the trickiest product to manufacture. As LabMuffin explains in her in-depth dive into PuritoGate, sunscreen tests are conducted on humans because using different surfaces just wouldn’t yield the most accurate results. This testing method isn’t the most efficient nor is it the safest, and it’s also expensive.
Which, perhaps, is why SPF honesty is a problem worldwide.
In 2019, the owner of AMA Laboratories, a USA-based testing lab, was arrested for participating in fraudulent testing for over 30 years. According to a study published in Consumer Reports’ July 2016 issue, 43% of sun screens in the United States do not live up to their labeled SPF. La Roche-Posay’s product—supposedly SPF 60—tested between SPF 10 to 19. Neutrogena markets their sunscreen lotions with SPF levels as high as 70 and 100+, but measured in at only SPF 30 to 39. In general, high SPF levels (above 50+) do not necessarily guarantee more protection, giving consumers a false sense of security. To prevent this, the FDA proposed capping off SPF labels at SPF 50+ in 2011.
What is Purito doing about it?
The air has yet to be cleared completely, but Purito has spoken out about the matter. On December 4th, they took to their official Instagram account to explain the situation. “As a brand we have requested the manufacturer to develop an exclusive product for PURITO, for which we received the formulation,” they explain—a set-up which isn’t uncommon in skincare manufacturing. Their manufacturer, which also happens to develop the best-selling Klairs Soft Airy UV Essence, has a long history of creating superior sunscreen formulations. According to Purito’s claims, they supposedly formulated the product according to Purito’s request (SPF 50, PA++++). The formula was then approved by the KFDA prior to its launch—and yet, it delivered less than promised.
In pursuit of accurate results, the brand is getting all three of their sun protection products tested. Until the results come in, they have paused sales of all their sunscreens. Read their full statement here.
Where does all this leave us?
Naturally, all this circles back to the consumer. After all, it’s us paying for these products and slathering them on our faces—at the end of the day, we’re the most affected when the beauty world drops bombshells like this one out of nowhere.
While it feels like a punch in the gut to have a cult favorite product wrangled straight out of our grip, a part of me considers these exposés as good news. How the heck would we have known without these published reports? As paying consumers, holding brands accountable is something of an unspoken responsibility. Know your skincare. Take the time to read through ingredients lists, do your research and run them through cosmetic analysis platforms like CosDNA or EWG’s Skin Deep before biting the bullet. Who knows how many more holy grails only deliver half of what they promise?
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver