users of Honest Company’s sunscreen say it fails at basic protection

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Jessica Alba
Jessica Alba’s Honest Company says its sunscreen lotion works fine – but has the lowering of its zinc level made it less safe? Photograph: Heather Kennedy/Getty

Ouch! Some customers of Jessica Alba’s the Honest Company are taking to social media saying that they have been burned both by the sun and the company, whose sunscreen, they claim, failed to deliver on the promised sun protection. The company, which makes eco-friendly household and baby products, insists that if used correctly its SPF 30 sunscreen works just fine.

Sunburned Twitter users beg to differ, and they have photos to prove it.“Our Sunscreen Lotion was tested, by an independent third party, against the protocols prescribed by the US Food and Drug Administration’s, FDA, monograph for over-the-counter sunscreen products,” the company said in a statement provided to the Guardian. “The results showed that our product is effective and safe for use as an 80 minute water-resistant (FDA’s highest rating), SPF 30 sunscreen lotion in accordance with FDA regulations when used as directed.”

According to the company, “using as directed” means: shake well, applying “liberally and evenly 15 minutes before sun exposure” and then reapplying after 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, or at least every two hours.

The company also said that the number of complaints it receives on its website constituted “less than one half of one percent of all units actually sold at honest.com”. While some of its products are available offline in stores like Whole Foods, Costco, Target, Buy Buy Baby and Nordstrom, just 20% of the Honest Company’s revenue comes from offline sales.

“We stand behind the safety and efficacy of this product,” the company said in its statement.

The company had a similar response a week ago when NBC5 in Chicago reported that parents have been posting warnings about the product to their Facebook pages after their children were sunburned while using the product. The news team found that the Honest Company reduced the amount of zinc oxide in the tubes of its lotion from 20% to 9.3%. (Typically, sunscreens contain between 18% to 25%.) The Honest Company said that when it removed zinc, it added other ingredients to ensure the sunscreen was effective.

The Honest Company is not the only brand that allegedly does not deliver on its promise of sun protection. A recent report by the Environmental Working Groupfound that 80% of 1,700 products it examined this year “offer inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone and vitamin A”.

Consumers can search for their sunscreen on the EWG website and see how it compares. The Honest Company sunscreen got a top rating from the group.

“Based on our modeling this product provides Excellent UVA protection and a good balance of UVA protection in relation to the SPF,” the group wrote on the product’s rating page. The rating was for the lotion with 20% zinc, not the newer version with less zinc.

According to one local mom, it was the zinc that first got her interested in the Honest Company’s sunscreen.

“I used some of the brand’s products before. I was drawn by the fact it was a zinc-based sunscreen. It was a natural product not full of chemicals,” said Gretta Stabler, who has a “strong family history of skin cancer”. Yet despite applying the Honest Company sunscreen on her six-year-old daughter four times in a three-hour period, she was unable to avoid a sunburn.

“She got really burned on her arms, shoulders, legs face, pretty much everywhere. I was angry,” Stabler told NBC5.

“The Honest Company has been transparent about the amount of zinc since the new formula came out in early 2015 as seen on the website and the new formula’s packaging,” the company told Today.

Even as the reports of the sunscreen lotion hit the airwaves, other users of the products also took to Twitter to claim that in their experience the sunscreen worked just fine.

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