Cancer Society defends sunscreen in wake of criticism

Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 17 January 2019, 5:39PM
Cancer Society NZ chief Mike Kernaghan has defended the company after 4-month-old Noah Watson suffered severe burns despite having sunscreen on. (Photo / Supplied)

Allergic reactions could be one reason why Cancer Society sunscreen didn't work on a young child, the organisation says. 

The mother of four-month-old baby Noah Watson went public about her son's severe burns over the weekend; even after his mother generously applied Cancer Society SPF50 sunscreen on him.

Cancer Society NZ chief Mike Kernaghan said they were in the process of investigating up to 30 complaints from people and were also speaking with Noah’s family.

.Up to 60 complaints were received by the Cancer Society each year.

The process investigated the complaint itself in the first instance, he said, rather than the product.

Kernaghan told Tim Roxborogh that his gut response is that could have been some sort of allergic reaction.

While he has no certainity around it, Kernaghan says that the fact the sunscreen is manufactured in Australia, where it is classed as a medicine, could have had an effect.

“There are strict manufacturing processes around any medicine.”

Kernaghan says that the sunscreen Lyndall Watson has complained about was recently tested and came back with positive results.

"We've very confident that we meet the SPF claims on the label."

Four-month-old baby Noah suffered blister burns despite using SPF50 Cancer Society sunscreen. Photo / Supplied Four-month-old baby Noah suffered blister burns despite using SPF50 Cancer Society sunscreen. Photo / Supplied

Kernaghan stressed they took every complaint seriously, but acknowledged that they were very confident with their available products and the SPF protection levels they carried.

He says he wants to reassure everyone that Cancer Society sunscreen that it will provide the protection.

“However, we are not all the same. Some of us have skin allergies that others don’t.”

Kernaghan says that sunscreen is only one part of the process, and that wearing appropriate clothing and hats and finding shade.

Noah’s experience has sparked many readers of the New Zealand Herald to come forward with their own experiences.

Among some of the products blasted by readers are those from top brands Cancer Society, Banana Boat - which has a range specifically for children - Neutrogena and Coola.

Larissa Thompson said her family had been put off using Cancer Society sunscreen products in future after her teenage daughter suffered burns to her back.

"I have had [to] apologise to my 15-year-old daughter, who came back from the beach looking like a pink flamingo, as I accused her of not using sunscreen.

"Lizzy has pale skin and very conscious of her susceptibility to being burnt if she didn't cover up.

"So she was applying thickly every half hour but it was completely useless. She may as well have applied moisturiser for all the good it did.

Thompson said she had bought her girl a tube of the Cancer Society's SPF50+ sunscreen just before Christmas. It was a brand the family had always used and with no problems.

A teenager shows off the aftermath of a day at the beach while wearing Cancer Society SPF50+ sunscreen. Photo / Supplied A teenager shows off the aftermath of a day at the beach while wearing Cancer Society SPF50+ sunscreen. Photo / Supplied

"She had very bad sunburn with a patch on her shoulder going down a few layers of skin.''

Thompson said the family would not be using that brand of sunscreen again.

Kelly Ryan, said she had been "burned like a crisp'' after applying Banana Boat sunscreen.

"It was almost as if I did the opposite and attracted the sun to my skin."

She did not specify what SPF protection level her sunscreen had, but acknowledged she had not been out in the sun long enough to do that much damage.

"I was holidaying in Fiji and was only outside for an hour, as I had to catch a flight, so there wasn't any need to reapply.''

Another woman, Lisa Bolt, said she was left severely burnt, blistered and peeled through three layers of skin over the Christmas holidays.

"As a nurse, I was horrified! I now have freckles all over the areas that weren't there before Christmas and the skin is now a weird greyish brown colour. Little bit stressed that I will now die of skin cancer in 15 years.''

She had been using the Cancer Society's SPF50+ waterproof spray and later purchased the SPF50+ sunscreen made by Neutrogena.

She found the latter was not any better, she said, as it had the tendency to get into her eyes if sweating or swimming.

Bronwyn Golding had bought a sunscreen by Coola - an eco-friendly sun care range that uses natural ingredients - over the summer for her family.

"Two weeks ago, my daughter suffered serious burns all over her back after a three-hour walk even thought we applied a generous amount before leaving the house.

"She was vomiting that night. The sunscreen did nothing.''

Golding said the family had since purchased sunscreens from the Cancer Society range, but was again questioning whether this would be effective, given other people's recent experiences.

"How can consumers know that we can trust the claims on the sunscreens we buy?

"Isn't it false advertising? Not to mention the health risk of skin cancer it poses.''


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