We know Purito messed up. But did they scam consumers? Is it possible this controversy hits deeper than UVA rays?
“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved,” George MacDonald famously stated. But in the skincare community, becoming a brand name or generating sales is more important than keeping the trust of consumers. And since 2020 has brought out the worst of everything, from murder hornets to American politics, I’m keeping an open mind.
Now, unless you’re not a part of the skincare community and or you get your news via carrier pigeon you’ve probably heard of the Purito scandal that I’ll recap in a bit. But it boils down to this: Purito’s beloved SPF 84 sunscreen was tested by a third party and found to be about SPF 19.
But first, let’s look at why a company might fake data results to gain a competitive edge in the skincare community.
The Skincare Market
For some background, the skincare market generated $17,545.million USD in sales in 2020. It’s expected to grow around 5.3% each year, reaching over 18 billion USD by 2025. What I’m trying to say is it’s a competitive market.
Now sunscreen isn’t the sexist of all skincare products (Tatcha Dewy Skin Cream, I’m looking your way). But, along with washing your face and moisturizing (do it, people!) it’s a pillar of the anti-aging routine. In fact, board certified dermatologist Arianne Shadi Kourosh, MD, MPH, FAAD states
“Although there have been some impressive strides in anti-aging treatments, no one product or procedure can completely reverse the long-term effects of poor skin care decisions, and protective measures are the cornerstone of good skin care…Fortunately, there are many sunscreen options available to help you protect yourself, including cosmetic products with SPF.”
So, a brand like the South Korean Purito, potentially, a lot to gain by becoming popular. And in a market full of brands trying to establish competitive edges, Purito had a couple of strong ones.
As the brand’s website states it’s paraben, cruelty, and sulfate free, using only “safe and honest” products. It plays into consumers love of environmentally conscientious brands and clean beauty, and of course, it delivers quality ingredients with extremely high SPFs. Until, you know, when they didn’t.
The PURITO Scandal Breaks: A Short Recap
On 12/4, INCIDecoder founder Judit Rácz posted that two labs had returned samples for PURITO’s extremely popular line Purito Centella Unscented Sun. The line boasted a SPF of 84. But after growing suspicious, Judit ordered multiple samples of the sunscreen, stripped them of identifying information, and sent them out for multiple in-vitro and in-vivo tests.
The contacted labs returned with results stating that the samples had an average SPF of 17.5 (averaging the results of SPF 15.8 and SPF 19.2 ± 2.4. returned by each lab). This is around 67 levels lower than PURITO claimed and 12.5 levels lower than the recommended standard of using a SPF 30.
And it’s important to note what tipped Judit off was the low amount of filters in the SPF.
Again as a recap, filters are the active ingredient in sunscreens that block UVB and UVA rays. Normally, they have a direct correlation with high SPF so Purito’s two filters was an extremely low amount for a claim of SPF 84. rays.
But Is This News New?
No, it’s not. Purito knew their filters, or lack there of, were an issue back in fall of 2019.
To add on to the above recap after Judit posted on Friday, floating the claim that Purito sunscreens may only contain a fraction of their stated amount, the brand replied with 48 hours on Instagram, immediately addressing the controversy and stating they would halt multiple skin care lines, like PURITO Centella Green Level Unscented Sun, PURITO Centella Green Level Safe Sun, and PURITO Comfy Water Sun Block “until the details are double checked”.
But back in 2019, the skincare community also had initial doubts about Purito’s claims of sun protection. For instance, a blog post explicitly referenced Purito’s low use of filters combined with their claims of high SPF.
Yet this same post goes on to dismiss that controversy, stating that while you shouldn’t blindly trust companies, Purito’s lack of filters didn’t matter because the filters that existed were strong enough.
Now, I’m not sure if this blog post was sponsored (which would be a tad more suspicious), but it tracks with the other posts around the same time about Purito (back in 2019) mentioning the lack of filters but also mostly dismissing that evidence.
Still, even a year ago, Purito’s Instagram shows a brand active and engaged with their 82K followers. So, why didn’t they have they reply to the controversy, brought up a number of consumers a year ago, the way they replied to Judit this week?
And they cannot claim deniability because in 2019 Puirto knew the lack of filters was a potential problem and explicitly shot down concerns on their very own website. In 2019, a Purito consumer asked them the question “Is the SPF reliable with only 2 filters?” . This was their response:
“As you can see the test data on PURITO website http://bit.ly/2WlvBPu , SafeSun has been certified as SPF50 sunscreen through clinical trials conducted the agency recommended by the Korean Food and Drug Ministry.
Also, since Safe sun sunscreen is certified by the European Certificate Authority CPNP, it would be SPF50 in European country as well.
Thank you! :)”
And now, skincare enthusiasts, please direct your intention consumer inquiry in full:
How is it possible this sunscreen offers SPF50 with just 2 filters, Uvinal A Plus and Uvinul T150?
In Europe sunscreens with only these 2 filters don’t even reach an SPF15.
Are the SPF testing protocols in Korea different than in Europe?
In 2019, the brand did go out of their way to address the low filter concern at the time of the initial controversy 1) allowing a question concerning it to be posted on their website and 2)shooting it down by providing clinical results and referencing European and Korean SPF certification.
But, at best, those tests must have been done very poorly. Perhaps, Purito was relying on a single source of data and just…never thought to fact check? Or were they trying to keep up with an impossibly light weight formula and extremely high SPF protection while cutting costs?
So, did PURITO scam consumers?
I say this as a fan of Purito, who’s now spent days drinking warm Svedka and questioning my hold on reality, I’m not sure.
First and foremost, Purito’s behavior was highly irresponsible, though the company could have had the best of intentions.
Because at the end of the day, anyone who decided to spend their money and put their trust in PURITO Centella Green Level Unscented Sun and other Purito products likely damaged their skin.
But to try and confirm Purito’s 2019 & 2020 claims and assure myself I was not putting my faith in the wrong UVA protection, I decided to follow up on the original clinical trials Purito used as rebuttal evidence in 2019.
My goal here was to see who was conducting the trials. If it was the third party Purito mentioned in their Instagram apology, I’d be far more inclined to believe Purito simply put too much faith in another company.
But if it was Purito conducting the tests over a year back and returning the very high and now very unlikely SPF results while dismissing claims by citing their own data, it’s, again, a little more suspicious.
Yet, when I tried to look at the clinical data, I ran into a roadblock:
I couldn’t access any of Purito’s 2019 lab results. Fine.
So I went back to analyzing the brand’s own words. In Purito’s recent apology, it seemed very reasonable to assume this might be a honest mistake due to constant outsourcing and, perhaps, consistent sloppiness.
But again, there were glaring red flags (the consistently low filter amount) constantly brought up that were never properly addressed or investigated.
Purito owed it to its consumers to double and triple check their own products.
In fact, in their own apology, Purito mentions that, due to the supposed reliability of their chosen manufacturer “the marked SPF and PA index was not questioned by the brand.”
So, while I do think Purito is now monitoring the situation and addressing the issues head on, I’m assuming everyone at the company isn’t color blind and someone should have seen the red flags a year ago.
My hope is that the brand can now start to recover and that they, along with the larger skin care community, have learned an important lesson. For providers, it’s to always triple check your data. And for consumers, it’s to always follow up on your concerns.