Health & Wellness

Jessica Alba's sunscreen gets thumbs down from sunburnt customers

Jessica Alba’s eco-friendly Honest Company may be a retail success, but her sunscreen gets the thumbs down from some users on social media.

Angry customers are posting online photos of themselves — and their children — showing serious sunburns with messages saying they sustained the burns after using Honest Company’s non-toxic sunscreen. The consumers claim the sunscreen, which is described on the company’s site as an SPF 30 sunscreen having “broad spectrum” protection, failed to protect them from the sun’s scorching rays.

Honest provided TODAY with a statement responding to the online commotion:

“Our Sunscreen Lotion was tested, by an independent 3rd party, against the protocols prescribed by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) monograph for over-the-counter sunscreen products,” the statement reads. “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 … The number of complaints received on our own website about our Sunscreen Lotion constitute less than one half of one percent of all units actually sold at honest.com. We stand behind the safety and efficacy of this product.”

Still, for some customers, the product clearly isn’t working.

Dr. Debra Wattenberg, a New York City dermatologist at NY Skin Rx, says the FDA does not test the effectiveness of sunscreens — that’s up to the company. While she’s not sure why people are feeling the burn, she does stress that eco-friendly products aren’t always better.

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“This is a very loose term that is not regulated by anyone. The term organic can mean whatever the company wants it to be and natural can mean whatever the company wants it to be,” she says.

The Honest Company sunscreen appeals to those who prefer natural products because it gets its broad spectrum protection from zinc oxide and not through chemicals like avobenzone, oxybenzone, and ecamsule, as many mainstream brands do.

NBC5 in Chicago reported the formula of the sunscreen was changed at some point from 20 percent non-nano zinc oxide — which, experts say, is enough to be effective — to 9.3 percent. The majority of sunscreens that listed zinc oxide as the only active ingredient contained 18 to 25 percent by contrast, NBC5 reported.

The company explained to NBC5 that after reducing the zinc, it added other ingredients to make the sunscreen effective. "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 in a statement.

Wattenberg says 20 percent zinc is ideal for protection, but adds that some products with less zinc often will work just as well if another blocker is added.

Zinc, too, is safely absorbed by the body, says Dr. Apple Bodemer, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Zinc is a trace element we need. If we absorb some of it, it is not so terrible.”

While some folks might be afraid of chemicals in sunscreen, Bodemer stresses that everyone should “absolutely” use a sunscreen because the risk of UV rays is much greater than any risk posed by chemicals in the products.

“UV radiation is a known human carcinogen,” she says. “More and more people are dying from melanoma.”

An earlier version stated the Honest sunscreen contains all-natural products. Honest products are not all natural, but do "strive to be 100% plant-based and sustainably-sourced, according to the company.

Clarification: An earlier version stated the Honest sunscreen contains all-natural products. According to the company Honest products "strive to be 100% plant-based and sustainably-sourced.”

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