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Comparative Advertising and “non-nano”-Claims Ban for a Sunscreen Manufacturer

In a rare dispute with regulators, an Australian sunscreen manufacturer Valeant Pharmaceuticals Australasia Pty Ltd  (VPA) was ordered to remove all advertising promoting their branded product Invisible Zinc. The Australian regulator Therapeutic Products Advertising Complaints Resolution Panel (TPA-CRP) found that the advertising made a number of claims in breach of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code.

The case opened by the TPA-CRP on 21 April 2011 was reported by an anonymous claimant and involved print, website, and television advertisements. The advertisements were published by Ganehill Pty Ltd. By the time of the Panel's consideration of the complaints, Valeant Pharmaceuticals Australasia Pty Ltd owned the Invisible Zinc brand.

Some of the claims that have been considered by the regulator:

  • "Many conventional sunscreens use man-made chemicals to merely disperse the sun"
  • "Invisible Zinc uses microscopic mineral reflectors found in nature to create a physical, reflective veil on the surface of your skin"
  • "many sunscreens, SPF moisturisers and cosmetics use chemicals to absorb UV light. Invisible Zinc does not"
  • "highest protection available under the Australian sun, no chemical UV absorbers"
  • "zinc oxide (non-nano) is a natural mineral protectant and reflector of UV rays. No chemical sun filters"
  • "Why resort to chemical weapons, when there is Invisible Zinc?"   

Amongst these claims only a few covered the fact that the sunscreens do not use nanoparticles. Most of regulatory breaches were due to comparative advertising or the use of terms like "chemical weapons" that were declared by the regulator in breach of the advertising Code by implying that "chemical sunscreens will cause serious harm to consumers".

The "non-nano" claim was equally found to be in breach of the advertising Code since it "intended to imply there is something wrong with products containing nano particles". Cancer Council commented that there is no 'link between absence of "nanoparticles" in sunscreen and occurrence of skin cancer'. However, this did not prevent The Friends of the Earth to issue their view on the story that 'the TGA's position on labelling is increasingly wrong-headed and at odds with what the public wants'.

The TPA-CRP panel concluded that 'In the panel's view it is vital that these fundamental public health messages should not be undermined by efforts to differentiate sunscreen products from one another in a marketing context'.


For more information please follow this link to the official record of the TPA-CRP panel discussion and ruling.

News item was produced by NIA in association with BREC Solutions.

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