By now, most of you beauty enthusiasts out there would have probably seen Instagram posts, YouTube videos, and whatnot on the internet discussing the latest controversy to hit the K-beauty world.
We’re of course talking about the Purito sunscreen saga. Amidst all the hot takes, snap judgements, and demands for explanations, refunds, and statements, let Daily Vanity bring you through the controversy from start to finish – beginning with the backstory of the brand for the uninitiated.
About Purito and what it stands for
Originating from South Korea, skincare brand Purito has amassed a loyal following since it was launched – it has almost 83,000 on their official Instagram account as of today – mainly thanks to their positioning as “clean” K-beauty.
The brand wears its cruelty-free and vegan-friendly (save for the snail range) status proudly, and touts its sustainable packaging choices as well as ongoing donations to Best Friend Animal Society and Korean Federation For Environmental Movement in its brand story featured on the website.
Purito is also known for its use of safe and clean ingredients, formulating products without the use of parabens, sulphates, synthetic fragrances and dyes, phenoxyethanol, and triethanolamine.
In other words, it’s employed an amazing strategy to hit all the right notes in the clean beauty repertoire and so far, it seemed to have resonated well especially with international customers.
So, what is the SPF problem that everyone in the beauty community is talking about?
Among other many things, sunscreen is a hotly debated topic in the clean beauty world. Clean beauty users worry about the ethics of sunscreen formulation, mainly due to concerns that some UV filters may contribute to coral reef bleaching (which chemistry PhD and skincare science educator Michelle Wong behind the Lab Muffin Beauty Science channel have examined and concluded to be overblown, by the way).
The other concern that clean beauty users also have is that certain UV filters are claimed to be “hormone disruptors,” but what they may not know is that the rat study most commonly cited in support of these claims involved rats being forced to ingest a massive amount of oxybenzone over the course of four days. The equivalent dosage in topical application on humans “would take applying sunscreen all over the entire body every day for 70 years,” according to Skin Cancer Foundation.
With these claims taking the beauty world by storm, it has given place for a “clean” sunscreen with decent cosmetic elegance and high UV protection to be in high demand globally. Purito’s Centella Green Level Unscented Sun SPF50+ PA++++ (marketed at SPF84.5 to be exact) appeared to fulfill those needs perfectly, and plenty of beauty consumers in the Asian skincare community embraced it with open arms.
Until its actual UV protection levels came under scrutiny, that is…
On 3 December, Judit Rácz, the founder of cosmetics database INCIDecoder, published a blog post announcing the findings of two independent laboratory tests that she commissioned in order to investigate the UV protection claims of the aforementioned Purito sunscreen formula.
In the post, she explains that as a cosmetics formulator and entrepreneur herself (she also has a sunscreen project which is currently a work-in-progress), she questioned Purito’s claim that the Centella Green Level Unscented Sun provides SPF 50+ UVB protection, given its “unusually low filter amounts.”
After speaking to her own sunscreen formulator (who casted doubts on Purito’s high SPF claims), she commissioned a series of tests at separate Polish and German labs and provides documentation of the results in the post. The tests suggest that the actual SPF provided by the Centella Green Level Unscented Sun when used at the full 2mg/cm2 dosage is around 19, which is nowhere close to the 50+ or even 84.5 as per the brand’s claims.
Yes, you read that right – SPF 19, not SPF 50+ as advertised on the product packaging – and this new revelation definitely spells bad news for the brand.
If the independent testing results are correct (keep in mind the fact that not one but two separate laboratories produced roughly similar results on the samples provided), then that’s really not good news for Purito at all.
The beauty community discusses the Purito sunscreen controversy
Without much delay, the beauty community, of course, caught on to the independent findings released by INCIDecoder and there was plenty of chatter going around since.
To start, Cyrille Laurent, a former stem cell researcher who’s since turned into a skincare blogger and YouTuber, first put out a video a couple of weeks ago – yes, even before the study published by INCIDecoder – calling out Purito and the sunscreen in question.
However, he took down that said video shortly after receiving hateful comments as well as feedback that he was making baseless claims without any evidence (Cyrille countered that he wasn’t able to disclose the findings due to legal reasons).
Following Judit’s blog post dated 3 December, Cyrille released a more comprehensive version addressing the controversy.
Perhaps the most detailed explanation was provided by Michelle Wong of Lab Muffin Beauty Science who, in her extremely educational video, went through all the relevant topics from how is SPF tested and the reliability of SPF information from the ingredient list to the ideal number of filters in a sunscreen and the types of lab testing that can be performed for sunscreens.
In fact, Judit the INCIDecoder founder (and Purito whistleblower) has even shared Michelle’s video on the INCIDecoder’s Instagram Stories, calling it “the best deep dive” that was well explained. Michelle also shared that a few cosmetic chemists and industry insiders have also said it was a good summary of the entire situation.
So the next question is, is Purito to blame for this mess? Well, you’ve got to read the brand’s official statement to find out.
Purito releases official statement on Instagram
After a few days of waiting, Purito released an official statement on Instagram on 5 December to address the discrepancy found in its sunscreen’s SPF levels.
You can refer to the post’s entire caption, in full, below: “Hello, this is PURITO. Please accept our sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your requests clarifying the information over the SPF and PA index of PURITO Centella Green Level Unscented Sun. For better understanding, we would like to first share the details of the sunscreen development process.
When developing a product as an ODM (original design manufacturing) system several parties are involved such as the manufacturing company, the brand, KFDA, and the testing lab. As a brand we have requested the manufacturer to develop an exclusive product for PURITO, for which we received the formulation.
The manufacturer of the product had a long history of developing quality sunscreen products and high technology, thus the marked SPF and PA index was not questioned by the brand. Moreover, the SPF 50, PA++++ of the PURITO Centella Green Level Unscented Sun was officially approved by the KFDA before the product was launched on the market.
However, recently, we have received a significant amount of inquiries on clarification of the SPF and PA index of the product, that’s when we decided to verify once again the manufacturer’s registration with the KFDA and the authenticity of the registered documents, we have assured that there was no problem.
The product has been legally recognized by all aforementioned parties, however, due to the recent debates, we decided to conduct our own research on the efficacy of the sunscreen.
In order to obtain precise results currently PURITO has requested the performance of both in-vivo and in-vitro tests for all three PURITO sunscreen products, other than the initial test conducted by the testing lab and the manufacturer. Although the results have not yet been released, we have acknowledged the seriousness of this issue. We have been closely monitoring the test results that were recently published online.
As a result of which, we are pausing the sales of PURITO Centella Green Level Unscented Sun, PURITO Centella Green Level Safe Sun, and PURITO Comfy Water Sun Block until the details are fact-checked and confirmed by the parties aside from the initial manufacturer and testing lab.”
The brand further clarified in the comment section: “We will make sure to publish the details as soon as the results are collected.
We acknowledge the fact that as brand PURITO we have put our trust on the manufacturing company, and accept the issue it has resulted. We will take this situation as a lesson, and check the details with more parties during the process of product development.
We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause, and we will complete the investigation in as timely a manner as possible.”
Just yesterday, the brand shared a notice on its Instagram Stories that it’s offering full refund to all customers who have purchased any of its sunscreen products in the last six months. Eligible customers can reach out to Purito to enquire about the refund process.
As of 3.42pm today (10 December), the brand seemed to have removed its recent Instagram posts that showcase the Centella Green Level Unscented Sun product as well.
So far, that seems to be the end of the story for now.
Final thoughts about the Purito controversy
To be honest, it seems like Purito is somewhat refusing to take full responsibility and is instead shifting all the blame to its third-party sunscreen manufacturer.
As a matter of fact, the brand said in its statement that due to the manufacturer’s long-standing history in making quality sunscreen formulas, it did not question or fact-check the SPF or PA index marked by the manufacturing team.
As consumers, it’s understandable that your anger is mixed with feelings of disappointment and disbelief with the learning of this news. After all, are we not supposed to trust that beauty brands have done their homework before releasing a product into the market for sale and consumption?
Since there is no way regular consumers can request or order an independent laboratory testing for each product, what are we to do moving forward? Who are we supposed to trust now when it comes to our cosmetic products? Should we just start boycotting all Korean beauty brands to be safe?
All of these mind-blogging questions are valid, and it might sound trivial for us to say this but the one thing you can do now is to remain calm and give the brand, the relevant industry experts as well as the regulators time and space to conduct their investigation and issue an official response.
It goes without saying that you should not participate in any hate speech or leave xenophobic remarks on the internet in an attempt to attack the brand or influencers that are currently affiliated to the brand – it’s important to keep in mind that there are other companies around the globe that have found themselves in the thick of product scandals before.
Even in the event that the INCIDecoder studies are proven to be true, this in no way means that all Korean beauty brands are guilty of being duplicitous or dishonest in the clinical results of their products. In other words, boycotting all other K-beauty brands just because of this isolated incident is an extremely unnecessary move.
Until Purito releases supplemental laboratory results (hopefully in the near future), here are a couple of steps you can take with regards to your sun protection:
- Reach for other sunscreen alternatives if you need more protection. If you’re a Purito sunscreen user, you can still continue using your existing sunscreen – just make sure you are reapplying more frequently than the mandated two hours.
- Practise other ways to further safeguard your skin from the sun. These include wearing a hat, sunglasses as well as protective clothing, avoiding the sun during peak hours (between 10am and 4pm), and keeping sunbathing activities to a minimum.
- Do remember to reapply your sunscreen every two hours, regardless of what sunscreen formula or brand you use.
[This is a developing story, watch this space for the latest updates on the controversy.]