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You’ve accepted the cruciality of applying sunscreen daily and reapplying it every two hours or so.

You’ve also tried countless sunscreens from various brands to find the best one for your skin type and for our hot and humid climate (which is no small feat, by the way).

And now you have to weed out counterfeits and fake sunscreens…talk about (sun) blocked and fraud alert, am I right?!

Busted by Science: Fake Sunscreen Exposes Major Risk

Sadly, fake sunscreens are more common than you may think.


This company may be selling a fake sunscreen… #skincare #spf #sunscreen #skincareproducts #skincarecommunity #beauty #sunscreenviral

♬ original sound – Dr. Julian Sass – Dr. Julian Sass

Earlier this year, a TikTok video by Dr Julian Sass, who has a PhD in cosmetic science, went viral, revealing the shocking truth behind a sunscreen claiming SPF 45. Brace yourself: testing showed it might only offer a measly SPF of 3.6!

Now, this isn’t your average beauty exposé. Dr Sass took the extra mile and tested the Clear Choice Sport Shield SPF 45, which claims to be dermatologist-approved and is mostly sold in spas and esthetician offices.

fake sunscreens risks

Credit: @drjuliansass/TikTok

First, the sunscreen’s suspiciously thin consistency raises red flags. The ingredient list also lacks key components of mineral sunscreens, like zinc oxide.

Then comes the UV light test — genuine sunscreen blocks UV rays and appears black under this light, but this Clear Choice culprit lets light right through.

Finally, in-vitro lab testing delivers the final blow. Compared to real sunscreens, this “SPF 45” imposter offered a paltry one-third the protection, and only against UVB rays!

fake sunscreens risks

Credit: @drjuliansass/TikTok

Dr Sass suspects it lacks broad-spectrum protection (meaning no defence against UVA rays, which contribute to ageing and cancer).

Shockingly, he suggests the label’s sun-shielding ingredients might be entirely fabricated.

This, sadly, isn’t an isolated case. Fake skincare is rampant online, with Korean beauty products especially targeted. Although K-beauty is a global leader in innovative sunscreens, it’s also ironically a prime target for counterfeiters.

In 2018, Consumer Reports published a report that showed 24 out of 73 sun protection products tested at less than half their labelled SPF number.

Three years ago, there was the “Korean sunscreen controversy” or the “Korean sunscreen saga” where a handful of K-beauty sunscreens were scrutinised for having a significantly lower SPF than what was claimed.

fake sunscreens

Credit: Heliocare

In October 2022, a man fell victim to buying a fake Biore UV Aqua Rich Essence on Shopee.

Late last year, Heliocare released a report comparing its real product to a fake sunscreen after the news broke out that counterfeit Heliocare sunscreens were being detected on the market.

Related read: Does Your Hair and Scalp Need Sunscreen Too? We Checked in With a Dermatologist to Find Out

The Alarming Increase in Fake Sunscreens

So, how did these counterfeits wiggle their way into our skincare routine and how are fake sunscreens pulling the wool over our eyes?


Excited to try Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun SPF 50+ PA++++, renowned for its elegant texture, hydrating formula and invisible finish…. That’s NOT aligning with this experience. But SO MANY PEOPLE, including some I know and trust, can’t ALL be wrong. Something is amiss. Stay tuned for PART 2. #SkinTok #SkinCare #koreanskincare #kbeauty #sunscreen #sunscreenviral #beautyofjoseon #counterfeit #korean_skincare #Beautygeeks

♬ X’s files parody _1 minute loop(1079525) – KeySets

Imagine unknowingly putting your skin at risk. That’s exactly what happened to Janine Falcon, a beauty blogger and former Beauty Editor known as Beauty Geek.

Lured by a suspiciously low price, she purchased a counterfeit version of a popular Korean sunscreen, the “Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun Rice and Probiotics SPF50 PA++++.”

“The seller even had the same brand photos. I had heard rumours of counterfeit products being sold online, but I told myself that they wouldn’t be able to do that with sunscreen, surely,” she shared with Refinery29.

Here’s where things get scary. When she applied the product, the warning signs became clear. The fake sunscreen had a thick, chalky texture that wouldn’t blend. The tamper-proof seal came off easily, raising major red flags.

Luckily, Falcon hadn’t cancelled her original order from a reputable seller. Comparing the two products revealed stark differences. The genuine sunscreen was a smooth, light lotion that absorbed easily.


PART 4 in this fake Beauty of Joseon SPF 50 PA++++ saga… Yes, ANOTHER COUNTERFEIT from Amazon.ca, plus tips on buying legit @Beauty of Joseon skincare online safely. Refund for THIS fake via Amazon.ca was prompt and accompanied by “We are sorry we disappointed you.” 😑 Up next: how to get your refund from Amazon even if the third-party seller lies, becomes difficult – or the product page disappears before you realize you got a counterfeit… #SkinTok #SkinCare #koreanskincare #sunscreenviral #sunscreen #counterfeit #BuyerBeware #beautyofjoseon #Beautygeeks

♬ original sound – Beautygeeks SHE/HER

The fake felt cheap, with an aluminium-like coating instead of plastic. Squeezing the tube left depressions, and there was no proper expiry date.

These subtle discrepancies are what make spotting fakes so difficult. Counterfeiters often steal brand images, and positive seller reviews can be misleading.

Thankfully, brands like Beauty of Joseon are fighting back. They’ve added QR codes to their packaging that allow buyers to verify authenticity.

Round Lab, another K-beauty giant, has faced similar challenges with its popular “Birch Juice Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF50+PA++++.”

Their website now features an “authenticity page” to help consumers identify fakes. The differences are often subtle — a bolder font, missing spacing — easily mistaken for printing errors.

A Risky Gamble with Your Skin


Replying to @ꫝꪖ𝕣𝕥ⅈꪀⅈꫀ ᥇𝕛 in this video ill share the side efgects of what will happen if someone uses fake sunscreen. #fakesunscreen #fake #sunscreen #spf #danger #sunprotection #pigmentation

♬ original sound – SoapLab Malaysia – SoapLab Malaysia

Fake sunscreens may seem like a bargain, but the risks are far too high to ignore.

The American Academy of Dermatology issues a stark warning that fake sunscreen can lead to a range of issues, including skin damage, sunburns, premature ageing, and, most alarmingly, an increased risk of skin cancer.

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays come in two main types: UVA and UVB. Both can damage your skin but in different ways.

UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, contributing to wrinkles and premature ageing. UVB rays are responsible for sunburns and damage the skin’s surface layers. Even worse, both UVA and UVB rays can increase your risk of skin cancer.

The lack of proper UV protection in these counterfeit products leaves your skin exposed to the harmful rays of the sun, negating the very purpose of using sunscreen.


should i buy some fake products and make this a series? @Beauty of Joseon pls send help! #kbeauty #beautyofjoseonsunscreen #fakeskincareproducts #scam #koreanskincare #counterfeitskincare

♬ 3D (feat. Jack Harlow) – Jung Kook & Jack Harlow

  • Increased skin cancer risk: UV rays from sunlight are a major cause of skin cancer. Real sunscreen protects against these rays, but a fake with no SPF leaves your skin vulnerable. This raises your chances of developing basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or even melanoma, the deadliest form.
  • Ineffective ingredients: You can’t rely on the label of a counterfeit product. It may contain cheap, ineffective ingredients or even harmful ones that irritate your skin.
  • False sense of security: Applying a fake sunscreen gives you a false sense of security. You think you’re protected, but you’re not. This can lead to sunburn and premature ageing.

Related read: Should I Replace My Sunscreen With Spf-infused Foundation? Not a Good Idea, According to Beauty Blogger

How to Spot Fake Sunscreens

Recognising fake sunscreen is essential for protecting your skin.


Make sure to look at the details of the listing! Check the attached video to learn more! #roundlab #roundlabsunscreen #fakeroundlab #fakekbeauty #koreanskincare #kbeauty @David🌘

♬ Creepy and simple horror background music(1070744) – howlingindicator

Here are some key indicators to help you identify authentic products:

  • Trustworthy sources: Purchase sunscreen from reputable retailers and official brand websites.
  • Beware of low prices: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be cautious of significantly discounted prices and products sold by unverified sellers.
  • Inspect the label: Check the packaging for any misspellings, faded colours, or irregular fonts. Authentic sunscreens have clear, professionally designed labels.
  • Look for certifications: Seek out recognised certifications like BPOM approval or similar regulatory endorsements specific to your region. Some brands use QR codes or authenticity checks on their packaging.
  • Texture and scent: Genuine sunscreens typically have a consistent texture and scent. Be wary of products with unusual textures or smells.

By staying vigilant against counterfeit tactics and utilising brand-provided resources, we can safeguard ourselves and ensure we’re getting the authentic sun protection we need.

Related read: These UV Stickers Tell You When It’s Time to Reapply Your Sunscreen

What to Do When Shopping for Sunscreens

fake sunscreens

Credit: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

When it comes to sun protection, sunscreen is your best friend. But not all sunscreens are created equal!

Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it tells you how well the sunscreen protects against UVB rays.

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 blocks about 98% of UVB rays
  • SPF 100 blocks about 99% of UVB rays

While SPF is important, it only tells part of the story. Broad-spectrum sunscreens also protect against UVA rays, which are the key culprit behind sun-induced ageing.

As much as we want to protect our wallets and bank accounts, we think it’s best to prioritise our skin more! You wouldn’t want to regret having saved a few dollars to end up with sun-damaged skin, right?

Think about it: the lower the SPF, the higher the probability of hyperpigmentation and deep wrinkles forming on your beautiful face.

Make sure to stick to well-established beauty stores, pharmacies, and official brand websites to ensure you’re purchasing authentic products.

For a deeper dive into SPF, PA ratings (UVA protection), and choosing the right sunscreen, check out our comprehensive guide!

Related reads:

Featured image credit: @drjuliansass/TikTok, @janinefalcon/TikTok, @davidzolanski/TikTok