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11th Mar 2024

Fake sunscreen is a thing – this is how you can tell the difference

Jody Coffey


Anytime I feel like I’ve got a handle on my skincare, some new information comes along to prove me wrong

Even while navigating huge volumes of skincare content online and settling on products that work for me, I’ve always known sunscreen is a non-negotiable.

No matter what phase my skin is in or what my skincare bag holds, having and using SPF is so important.

However, now I feel like I need to rethink my sunscreen amid worrying revelations about SPF coming to light.

Dr Julian Sass, a cosmetic scientist and formulator, is leading the discussion on TikTok. He proved that a sunscreen which was marketed to have an SPF of 45, actually has an SPF of 3.6.

That’s right, 3.6.

@drjuliansass This company may be selling a fake sunscreen… #skincare #spf #sunscreen #skincareproducts #skincarecommunity #beauty #sunscreenviral ♬ original sound – Dr. Julian Sass

Dr Sass showed viewers the process he uses to identify a counterfeit sunscreen.

Firstly, he said that a transparent consistency could be an indicator that it is a fake sunscreen.

Secondly, Dr. Sass pointed out that the ingredients list was missing many of the essential components normally found in mineral sunscreen.

The packaging also said the SPF contained micronised zinc, instead of zinc oxide, which is a red flag right off the bat.

Thirdly, he placed it under ultraviolet light, where it should appear totally black as it absorbs the light.

This sunscreen fails these tests, which led Dr Sass to believe this sunscreen contained almost no protection from ultraviolet damage.

Dr Sass conducted a comparative analysis using two genuine sunscreens and determined that the ‘fake’ product protected skin for just a third of the time and from UVB rays only.

He determined that despite the claims printed on the tube, this was not a broad spectrum SPF as it claimed to be. This is because it did not protect skin from UVA rays, which can cause premature ageing and skin cancer.

Even more worryingly, Dr Sass found that the product contained none of the sun-shielding ingredients it claimed to have on the label.

How to identify fake sunscreen

It’s not just an inconvenience to purchase fake sunscreen but it’s also dangerous as the consumer may not be protected from the sun’s rays.

There are several ways you can avoid buying a counterfeit product:

  • Buy from reputable retailers or official brand websites. When buying online, stick to names you know and only buy from their official website
  • If the price is very low and sold by an unverified seller, it could be a fake
  • Check the label: Are there spelling errors? Dodgy colouring or fonts? If so, it may be one to avoid. Genuine sunscreen packaging will always have professional and clear labelling.
  • Consistency is key: Genuine sunscreens will normally have a consistent texture and scent. It shouldn’t feel or smell unusual.