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Merck Asked to Discontinue Sunscreen Claim


NEW YORK—The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus Claims recommended Merck Consumer Care (MSD Consumer Care, Inc.) discontinue the advertising claim that Coppertone Sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher “Protects across 100% of the UVA UVB spectrum."

NAD determined that advertiser’s evidence supported the claim that Coppertone sunscreens with a SPF of 15 or higher offer some skin protection for all wavelengths across the entire UVA/UVB spectrum; however, NAD also examined whether the advertising claim at issue, displayed through the advertising with a rainbow motif, conveyed the message that the advertiser’s sunscreens provide 100-percent protection across 100 percent of the spectrum, a message that was not supported by the evidence in the record. 

The advertisement appeared in print, Internet and point-of-purchase advertising, and in free standing inserts and broadcast advertising. As the advertiser explained, sunburn and other types of skin damage are caused by the spectrum of harmful UV radiation from the sun that reaches the Earth’s surface and are classified by wavelength. SPF ratings on sunscreen products refer to the amount of skin protection that a particular sunscreen will provide against the sunburn effect of UVB and UVA radiation. UVA rays also penetrate to the deeper layers of the dermis and play a large role in premature aging of the skin, allergic reactions, and may increase the likelihood of developing skin cancers.  

To measure spectral coverage at the UVA end of the spectrum, researchers measure the “absorbency" associated with active ingredients in sunscreens.  Further, the advertiser noted, there is no test currently available of providing information about the extent to which skin receives protection from the percentage of UV rays blocked at any given point of the UV spectrum, especially for the longer UVA rays.  

NAD noted in its decision that it is well-held that while a claim may be literally true it may still convey a message that is false or misleading. NAD appreciated that the advertiser’s intended message was the breadth of its sunscreens’ coverage rather than the completeness of the protection. However, NAD noted, regardless of intent, advertisers are responsible for all the reasonable messages conveyed by their advertising. NAD was concerned specifically about the aspect of claim “across 100%" because “100%" is a quantified term of absolute completeness.

NAD recommended the advertiser discontinue the claim “protects across 100% of the UVA UVB spectrum," but noted nothing in the decision prevents the advertiser from promoting that its Coppertone sunscreens with a SPF of 15 or more offer protection across the entire UVA UVB spectrum, as long as the any new claim does not imply complete protection at every point in the spectrum. 

The company, in its advertiser’s statement, said that while it “disagrees with the NAD's view about other conveyed messages, Merck Consumer Care will take the NAD's view into consideration in its advertising going forward.  Merck Consumer Care respects the NAD's program of self-initiated inquiries and supports the self-regulatory process."

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