korean sunscreen controversy purito klairs keep cool


In a year that many would describe using some sort of pejorative, it’s only fitting that 2020 concluded with the Korean Sunscreen Controversy.

I’ve largely been absent from Instagram/social media so far in 2021, but a recent update regarding this situation has lured me back in, albeit temporarily. This post is as much about bringing me up to speed as anyone else who may be in the dark about this.

How It All Started

A blog post from INCIDecoder posted on December 3, 2020, revealed that the Purito Centella Green Level Unscented Sun has a mean SPF of 19 based on two independent lab studies conducted in Europe. The Purito sunscreen in question has an advertised SPF of 50.

Needless to say, emotions ran high and people were pissed.

A lot of the ire was directed toward Purito. Loyal customers — of which there were many — felt deceived. They demanded an explanation from the brand.

Meanwhile, residual anger was directed toward Klairs and Keep Cool, two Korean brands with similarly-formulated sunscreens. (The Klairs and Purito sunscreens were created in the same lab, as far as I’ve read.)

And then there were the skeptics. Some people were wondering who INCIDecoder even was and why we should take their word as gospel. Few even brought up the fact that the founder of INCIDecoder is in the process of creating a new sunscreen, which made them question the blog’s intentions and potential bias.

Eventually, sites like FiddySnails and Lab Muffin provided some measured insight regarding the situation, particularly for anyone who intended to cast away Korean/Asian sunscreens for good.

The Aftermath

In the month-plus since INCIDecoder’s blog post, Purito, Klairs, and Keep Cool have taken action. Here is what each brand has done in response to the controversy:

Purito

Purito issued an Instagram response to the lab results about a day after they were published. An excerpt:

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.

Purito followed up by announcing in-vivo and in-vitro tests for all three of its sunscreens and added that customers would be eligible for a refund on these products. In the meantime, Purito has ceased sales of its sunscreens from its site and partner merchants.

Purito has not updated its Instagram feed since that post, and results from the lab tests are still pending. However, the brand did issue a notice in its Instagram stories in early January:

purito sunscreen controversy notice
Source: @Purito_Official on Instagram

Klairs

Klairs is one of two brands that caught the run-off from the Purito SPF controversy. Its Soft Airy UV Essence has a similar formula to Purito’s Centella Green Level Unscented Sun, and both sunscreens were manufactured in the same lab.

Klairs issued a statement on its global Instagram account and US Instagram account on December 7, 2020. An excerpt:

Currently, Dear, Klairs’ SPF products are produced according to KFDA SPF regulations. However, we have identified the possibility that these products, produced under Korean guidelines, may produce different results when tested under non-Korean, country specific testing methods and guidelines.

On December 23, the company took to its company blog for an update:

klairs spf controversy update
Source: Klairs Cosmetics

Klairs has suspended overseas sales of its sunscreens. No official refund policy was announced.

Keep Cool

Earlier in 2020, Keep Cool launched its Soothe Bamboo Sun Essence with a lightweight formula reminiscent of Klairs’ and Purito’s. The brand addressed concerns in light of the Purito SPF controversy in its Instagram Stories but issued an official response on its global Instagram account on January 20, 2021. An excerpt:

To address the issue, we have immediately requested a separate institution independent from the manufacturer to conduct clinical trials. Today, we confirmed that the SPF index stated on the product falls short of the number indicated on the product [SPF 50].

Keep Cool has halted sales of its sun essence and will offer a $25 Keep Cool voucher in lieu of a monetary refund.

keep cool korean sunscreen controversy response
Source: @KeepCool_Global on Instagram

Where I Stand

This debacle is why I stepped back from Instagram/social media.

I was burned out by Instagram, especially, throughout 2020, but it was this Korean sunscreen controversy that prompted me to take an indefinite hiatus from the platform.

Why? Because of my knee-jerk reaction to the whole thing.

When I caught wind of INCIDecoder’s damning blog post, I was shocked. Then angry. Very angry. This is a sunscreen I championed not only on my own channels but elsewhere. I reached out to the company with a Karen-Lite tone on Instagram DMs demanding an explanation right-the-damn-now. (Purito did respond in a timely, gracious manner. Even if the response was canned, I still appreciated it.)

But once I read blogs and accounts like Fiddy’s, I caught myself from being completely swept away in the emotional current. The fact that I got as far as I did, however, made me feel crappy.

I’ve always been an emotional person but with age, I’ve worked on becoming more measured in my reactions. I like to think I’ve mellowed out since my younger days, but with more time on my hands due to the pandemic, I was looking for ways to spend my time — and not always wisely.

I rarely engage in social media discourse, let alone instigate it. In the few times I have, I didn’t feel it changed anything for the better. I’m all for discussion, but social media tends to whip people up in a frenzy that puts the blinders on without much consideration for anything or anyone else. And then there’s the lack of nuance, cues, and other disadvantages that come with trying to engage with someone civilly on the Internet.

I still keep myself informed and aware. Being away from social media doesn’t mean I’ve put my head in the sand. If anything, it’s helped me regain a sense of clarity.

This brings me to why I’m posting today.

Full disclosure: I am a Keep Cool ambassador. This morning, I received an email from the brand that echoed their Instagram statement. It prompted me to check for any other updates on this SPF controversy. Since I’ve featured (and praised) Purito, Klairs, and Keep Cool’s sunscreens, I took it upon myself to share this information with visitors to my site — especially those who come here for the reviews.

Since a decent amount of time has elapsed since the INCIDecoder blog, I’m a lot less emotional and able to view the situation with a clearer head.

As for what I’ll be doing with my sunscreens? I still use my Purito Unscented Sun because, well, it’s better than nothing. I recently finished my gifted tube of Keep Cool sun essence. My Klairs Mid-Day Blue Sunscreen is on standby. I don’t use it much these days because it’s better suited for when my skin is oily, which is not the case during another cold, dry winter.

I’m not ready to write off Korean sunscreens, but I am willing to explore other formulas that provide what they claim and have the receipts to show for it, regardless of where in the world they’re made. However, nonsense happens everywhere. I’ll really have to do some homework on this, especially since my complexion is Casper-tier.

I applaud the three brands for not shying away from the controversy and taking steps towards doing a better job in the future. However, as much as I enjoy and appreciate Keep Cool, I am curious as to why it omitted the number on the test results. If you’re going to be transparent, go all in. I also wonder where Klairs stands on refunds, although it could be a matter of a store-by-store basis. I don’t know, I didn’t find anything definitive.

Updates as of February 2021

2/24/21: Purito has issued a statement regarding the results of its independent testing and what the company plans to do going forward:

Purito took to its Instagram account and issued the following statement in its Stories:

 

A tl;dr: Independent test results show Purito’s sunscreens did not reach SPF level 50. The company has cut ties with the manufacturer and pulled its sunscreens from shelves completely. Moving forward, Purito plans to create new sunscreen products with a different manufacturer. These forthcoming sunscreens will be tested in Korea and overseas before hitting the shelves, and random batch tests will be conducted each year.

As a consumer, I am pleased with how well Purito is choosing to respond. The company has vowed to learn from its mistakes in creating a new line of sunscreens. Honestly, I’m excited for these upcoming products, though I have to tell myself to be patient because I reckon this will take quite some time if Purito wants to get it right.


2/3/21: Beplain has shared the lab results for its two sunscreens on its global Instagram account. The results are split:

  • The Beplain Clean Ocean Moisture Sunscreen passed with a 16.88 PA (PA++++) but failed its SPF rating with a 30.7, roughly 20 points below the advertised level of 50.
  • The Beplain Clean Ocean Nonnano Mild Sunscreen passed with a 16.75 PA (PA++++) and passed its SPF rating with a 52.0, which is above the advertised level of 50.

Testing was done by a third-party under the standards of Cosmetics Europe’s SPF Test Method (ISO 24444).

Anyone who purchased the Clean Ocean Moisture Sunscreen will be eligible for a refund. Beplain will be suspending sales of the Clean Ocean Moisture Sunscreen.

In the meantime, the Clean Ocean Nonnano Mild Sunscreen will continue to be sold and could be a worthwhile alternative for anyone seeking to replace a now-discontinued sunscreen. I’ve not used this product myself but am keen to check it out…although I’m not having an easy time finding any reviews in English!

You can read Beplain’s full statement here.

Edited 2/3/2021 to correct the name of the sunscreen being suspended.


1/26/21: And the hits keep coming…

  • Two more Korean skincare brands have issued statements on their web sites about their sunscreens not meeting their advertised SPF, RoundLab and Hyggee. These statements are in Korean with no full English translation to be found for either one at this time. However, the gist seems to be that RoundLab will be taking steps towards formulating an effective SPF while Hyggee is basically telling consumers (read: YouTubers and influencers) to STFU and not come after the integrity of its products, although Hyggee will be submitting its sunscreen for further testing. Both RoundLab and Hygge have pulled their sunscreens off the market until further notice. [source]
  • Beplain has also issued a statement on its web site about discontinuing sales of its sunscreen. The full statement is in Korean, but a Redditor shared a brief exchange with the brand in English confirming that Beplain is “looking into this issue.” [source 1, source 2]
  • Some good news for anyone who purchased Keep Cool’s Bamboo Sun Essence from YesStyle: you’re eligible for a refund! A slight caveat, though — the refund program appears to be taking some time to fully roll out. [source]

1/24/21: There are a couple of updates to share here regarding Keep Cool’s Bamboo Sun Essence.

First, a recent video by the director of the Korea Skin Science Institute revealed the independent lab results of three sunscreens. Although the products were blurred out, they were easy to identify for Korean/Asian beauty enthusiasts on Reddit. One of those sunscreens tested was Keep Cool’s.

Out of the three sunscreens presented in KSSI’s video, Keep Cool’s is the only one that failed to meet its advertised SPF value. One keen IG’er was able to point out the actual SPF from the video: 28.6.

That’s not awful, but it still falls well short of 50. Once again, I am curious as to why Keep Cool omitted that information in its announcement of the test results. For better or worse, the results made their way to the public regardless. But by someone else.

Second, many customers have expressed frustration over Keep Cool issuing a store voucher instead of a monetary refund, as Purito has promised its customers. Fortunately, individual stores like CrediThink have been issuing refunds, per a Reddit user. For anyone who (understandably) wants their money back so they can spend it freely on other brands/products, it’s worth going to the retailer directly and asking for a monetary refund. If you didn’t buy directly from Keep Cool, that is!

Stay Tuned

I will do my best to update this post as more information becomes available — likely when Klairs and/or Purito share the results from their lab tests.

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I am not a professional. All opinions are my own. 

6 Replies to “Korean Sunscreen Controversy: An Abridged Guide”

  1. I get the false advertising but in case anyone didn’t know, spf of 30 is an acceptable amount of protection. As a licensed esthetician, I tell my clients to use spf in the spf 30-50 range no matter what kind/color skin they have. So even if its not 50 like it claims, you can’t go wrong if it’s above 30. It’s just a matter of how often we reapply. And let’s be honest, how many people actually reapply sunscreen every 80 minutes in a normal day?

    1. Thank you for sharing.

      In the case of the BePlain formula that was pulled, that would fit within that acceptable range of SPF you specify. However, it was the company’s decision to pull the product as it’s not the formula they had intended to sell. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year or so, consumers value transparency and honesty — if they’re not getting what they paid for, even if the product is otherwise “okay,” many of them will still take exception to that.

      “And let’s be honest, how many people actually reapply sunscreen every 80 minutes in a normal day?”

      Not me!!

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