NAD Recommends Neutrogena Discontinue Sunscreen ‘Barrier’ Claim; Advertiser to Appeal

New York, NY – Dec. 16, 2013 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that Neutrogena Corporation discontinue the “sun + water barrier lotion” claim made for its “Beach Defense Sunscreen.” Neutrogena will appeal that finding to the National Advertising Review Board.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Express and implied performance claims made by Neutrogena in print, Internet and in-store advertising, as well as on product packaging, for its Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen lotion and spray were challenged by MSD Consumer Care, Inc. a/k/a/ Merck Consumer Care, a competing manufacturer of sunscreen products. Claims at issue included:

  •  “Beach-strength suncare that’s powerful enough to protect you and your family anywhere.”
  •  “Beach strength UVA/UVB sun protection.”
  •  “Now, the whole family can feel protected, no matter where the sun takes you.”
  •  “Water + sun barrier.”

NAD also considered whether claims made for the product imply that Neutrogena Beach Defense sunscreen blocks the sun’s rays, provides a superior level of sun protection as compared to other broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreens with the same SPF or provides
a unique and superior level of sun protection that has not been achieved by other sunscreens.

In this case, the challenger argued that the advertiser’s identification of its product as a “sun barrier” and its prominent use of “water + sun barrier” on the product packaging, in close proximity to the term “sunscreen,” falsely conveyed to consumers that Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen acts as a sunblock.

The advertiser contended that it is expressly permitted by the Food and Drug Administration to use the descriptor “barrier lotion” to describe its Beach Defense sunscreen product because, in the consumer-directed information about sunscreens on the FDA’s website, FDA explains that sunscreens work by providing “a chemical barrier that absorbs or reflects UV radiation and prevent the passage of UV to the skin.”

NAD, in its decision, said it did not believe that by including the descriptor on its consumer-facing pages, FDA has expressly granted permission to advertisers to promote sunscreens as “sun + water barrier lotions.” NAD noted that the FDA expressly prohibits the use of language that expressly or by implication conveys the message that simply by applying a sunscreen, a consumer is completely protected from the dangers posed by sun exposure. More specifically, FDA states that it is false and misleading to use the words “sunblock,” “sweatproof,” “waterproof” [or similar claims] on sunscreen product labels, characterizing such products as “misbranded.”

In reaching its own decision, NAD said, it found the FDA’s concerns regarding label claims promising total or complete sun protection to be meaningful and instructive.

NAD determined that consumers could reasonably understand this claim to mean that Beach Defense is waterproof and completely blocks the sun’s rays – a message unsupported by the evidence in the record. NAD recommended that the claim “sun + water barrier lotion” be discontinued.

However, NAD found that the reference to “beach strength,” in the contexts in which it appeared, did not convey the implied message that Neutrogena Beach Defense products are a unique category of sunscreens or are superior to broad spectrum sunscreens with the same SPF value.

Finally, NAD noted its appreciation for the advertiser’s voluntary permanent discontinuance of the term “Now” in connection with the claim “Now, the whole family can feel protected, no matter where the sun takes you,” an action NAD deemed necessary and appropriate under the circumstances. However, NAD found that in the absence of the word “now,” the claim was a stand-alone claim and fully supported.

Neutrogena, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “strongly” disagreed with NAD’s findings regarding its “water + sun barrier” claim, “which amounts to a determination by NAD that an advertiser cannot use in its sunscreen product labeling and advertising the same terms that FDA uses in its own communications to consumers.”

Neutrogena noted that it will appeal the adverse finding to the NARB.