Video: How effective is that sunscreen?

updated 4/24/2006 10:20:52 AM ET 2006-04-24T14:20:52

With summer just around the corner, lawsuits filed Thursday accuse sunscreen makers of exposing millions of people to cancer and other dangers through false and misleading claims about the effectiveness of their products.

The nine suits — involving some of the most popular brands, including Coppertone, Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic, Bullfrog and Neutrogena — charge that manufacturers dangerously inflate claims about the protective qualities of sunscreens, lulling consumers into believing they are safe from the dangers of prolonged sun exposure.

One lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles, calls sunscreen the “snake oil of the 21st century."

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer.

The suits seek to stop the defendants from engaging in allegedly misleading marketing practices. They also seek restitution of all money wrongfully acquired in violation of business and professions codes, unspecified damages for injuries suffered by plaintiffs, and punitive damages.

The suits, filed in California, name as defendants Johnson & Johnson Inc., Schering-Plough Corp., Playtex Products Inc., Tanning Research Laboratories Inc. and Chattem Inc.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are seeking class-action status for suits against each manufacturer.

Not true sunblock?
The suits focus on labels that claim the sunscreens protect equally against the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays, and also claims of how long supposed waterproof sunscreen remains effective in water.

“In truth and in fact ... as defendants knew or should have known, their skin protection products, at best, only protect the skin against harmful UVA rays with shorter wavelengths, while the skin remains exposed to harmful UVA rays with longer wavelengths that penetrate deep within the skin,” according to the suits.

They allege that consumers have purchased sun protection products under the false impression that they are receiving protection from all of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

The suits also allege that parents have been misled into believing their children are protected as a result of claims in labels for products aimed specifically at children, such as Coppertone Water Babies.

“Schering-Plough misled ... the general public by representing that their Coppertone Water Babies UVA/UVB Sunblock Lotion provided 45 times a child’s natural protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” according to the suits. They say the product only provides that level of protection against UVB.

The suits allege that Banana Boat Ultra Sunblock, which claims on its label to be waterproof, is neither waterproof nor a true sunblock. The suits make similar charges against other popular brands.

The suits were filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles by attorneys from Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP and Abraham Fruchter & Twersky LLP.

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