Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Two ads for the Green People SPF sun cream, seen in July 2019:
a. A direct mailing received on 11 July 2019 stated “THE TRUTH ABOUT SPF50+…SPF50 only filters 1% more UVB light than SPF30”.
b. A blog post on www.greenpeople.co.uk, titled “DISCOVER THE TRUTH ABOUT SPF50 SUN CREAM”. Text stated “We are often told to reach for the highest SPF possible to protect ourselves and our children from the sun. But does an SPF50 really offer nearly double the protection of an SPF30? No! In fact an SPF30 lotion offers 97% protection against UVB rays, while SPF50 offers 98% protection – just 1% difference” and SPF50 only filters 1% more UVB light than SPF30”.
The complainant challenged whether the claims that SPF50 sunscreens only filtered out 1% more UVB light than SPF30 in ads (a) and (b): 1. were misleading; and 2. were irresponsible, because they implied that there was no significant difference in the level of protection against sunburn.
1. The Green People Company Ltd said that the claim was factually correct. They said that under international agreement on SPF values, SPF30 sunscreen must filter out 97% of UVB radiation and SPF50 sunscreen must filter out 98% of UVB radiation, when properly applied. This was a difference of 1%. They said that the increase in protection from one number to the next was negligible, particularly in the high range, which would include SPF30 and SPF50, and this was confirmed by other authorities on skincare. They said that it was well known that excessive exposure to UVB caused sunburn and damage to skin cells. Low level exposure to UVB light was beneficial because it enabled the body to synthesise vitamin D, which was an essential nutrient that played an important role in preventing diseases, but which may be lacking in certain diets. They said that the claim was based on sound scientific evidence and the presentation of the claim would be clearly understood without confusion or ambiguity by the average consumer.
2. The Green People Company said that for the vast majority of the population and under most circumstances, SPF30 offered adequate protection against UVB radiation. They referred to several authorities that had recommended using a minimum of SPF15 and SPF30 or higher for prolonged periods in the sun. They said that none of those authorities had specifically advised that SPF50 or SPF50+ ought to be used. They said that their ads enabled consumers to make informed decisions based on current medical knowledge and established facts.
1. & 2. Upheld The claim “SPF50 only filters1% more UVB light than SPF30” in ads (a) and (b) were presented alongside the text “the truth about SPF50+” and “discover the truth”. Ad (a) also set out the different percentages of UVB protection offered by SPF15, SPF30 and SPF50 sunscreens. Similarly in ad (b) the claim was accompanied by text which stated “But does an SPF50 really offer nearly double the protection of an SPF30? No!” and the text “just 1% difference”. In those contexts the ASA considered that consumers would understand from the specific claims that SPF50 filtered out 1% more UVB light than SPF30, and the ads as a whole, that SPF50 and SPF50+ sunscreens offered no significant difference in protection than SPF30 in practical terms and would therefore be discouraged from choosing SPF50 over an SPF30 sunscreen, particularly if they wanted to tan.
We acknowledged that the claim that SPF50 filtered 1% more UVB light than SPF30 was factually accurate. However, we understood there was a notable difference between the protection offered by SPF30 and SPF50 sunscreen, when application and usage and were taken into account. For example, if sunscreen was applied as instructed, SPF50 and SPF50+ sunscreens provided protection for a longer period of time. This meant that where a higher factor sunscreen was used as instructed, consumers would be able to stay out in the sun for longer without being burnt. We understood that generally most consumers did not apply sunscreen as instructed in terms of the quantity and application frequency that was recommended, which meant that many consumers would not be afforded the level of protection advertised. The NHS website also stated that most people did not apply enough sunscreen and those who were concerned about not applying enough SPF 30 should use a higher SPF. Therefore, a SPF50 sunscreen would provide a not insignificantly greater level of protection than a SPF30 sunscreen, contrary to what the ad suggested. The sources referred to by the advertiser, such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and NHS websites, recommended the use of SPF30 or higher for prolonged outdoor use. However, they did not state or suggest that the level of protection between SPF30 and SPF50 was insignificant overall or refer to the percentage difference in UVB protection. We considered that ads (a) and (b) implied that The Green People’s SPF30 sunscreen offered a very similar level of protection to SPF50 sunscreens. Because we understood that in practical terms that was not the case, we concluded that the claim “SPF50 only filters 1% more UVB light than SPF30”, as it appeared in the context of the ads, was misleading. In addition, because the ad discouraged people from considering using a higher factor SPF50 sunscreen, which could be detrimental to their health, we concluded that the ads were also irresponsible.
Ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Responsible advertising) and 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising).
Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in their current form. We told The Green People Company Ltd not to make claims which implied that there was no significant difference in the level of protection against sunburn and to ensure that their ads were prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers.