The debate has been renewed last summer, in August, by a paper released in the French daily Libération. Laurence Coiffard, a researcher-lecturer in the Nantes (Brittany, France) University, fingered out misleading SPFs, overrated, that could, then, lead to increased risks of skin cancers. An answer is released now by the industry, indeed, by Cosmed, an association of the French SMEs of the cosmetic sector, “Laurence Coiffard’s tests are misleading; she has gone through a professional misconduct, along with a serious moral fault, playing on people’s fears with non-validated scientific basis.
CosmeticOBS-L’Observatoire des Cosmétiques had reported on this study, in its August 14 article, titled
Sunscreens: how to choose?
A paper had, then, just be issued in the Libération daily, which
“displayed the results of a study measuring the differences between the claimed SPF and the true protection provided by several creams,”
According to this study, by Laurence Coiffard, a researcher-lecturer in the Nantes University, based on measurements performed in her Laboratoire de Pharmacie Industrielle and Cosmétologie (Laboratory of Industrial Pharmacy and Cosmetology), 25% to 30% of the products have an SPF lower than the one displayed on the label.”
Libération pointed that there was “a scientific controversy [whose] issue would have to be decided, the number of new cases of skin cancers having tripled within twenty-five years.”
The impact of the revelations
The news has been a concern to consumers. It has also rung the alarm bell throughout the cosmetic industry.
“This paper has been the cause of an emotional trauma in the cosmetics companies,” Jean-Marc Giroux, the Cosmed President, says now. Cosmed is the representative association of the SMEs of the sector. “It takes about ten years for a manufacturer to develop its image. They are really proud of the sunscreens they manufacture. Quite often, they are their first users, with their entire family. Seeing that, within very few days, anybody could treat them with disrespect and throw them to the lions has been a tremendous shock.”
Once the time for shock is over, the time for an answer comes.
Cosmed has not chosen the legal way, but has instead opted for a “demonstrative effort to show that Ms Coiffard’s tests are wrong, and that her accusations are groundless.”
“We did choose to communicate with the consumers,” Jean-Marc Giroux says, “to prevent anybody from making meaningless comments on companies.”
The today press release details these accusations, to balance them with substantiated answers.
The SPF – Cancer link
In Laurence Coiffard opinion, an overrated SPF displayed on a label compromises the consumers’ safety. Thinking they are protected more than they are in fact, they tend to expose themselves for too long, thus, increasing the risk to develop a melanoma or a skin cancer.
“Wrong," is the Cosmed’s answer, “It is now established that the rise of melanoma is due to many factors, especially the overexposure in early childhood, and, in particular, the frequency and the importance of sunburns. Therefore, the reason for this increase should be linked to the population behaviour in the ‘70s-80s.”
This argument encompasses those developed by Jean-François Doré, a researcher in the French INSERM, during the 5 th meeting of the French Society of Anti-oxidants (go to the Skin and sun: risky relationships article.)
The measurement method
The second line of an answer is the method of SPF measurement.
For her tests, Laurence Coiffard uses an in vitro method. After her opinion, the in vivo methods used by the industry give far higher marks; this is why the industry prefers to use them.
“Wrong," is the Cosmed’s answer. Since several years, there is a scientific debate between the using of in vitro and in vivo methods for the evaluation of the sun protection factors. Keep in mind that, contrary to what Laurence Coiffard states, industrials look for an in vitro method: this would favourably lower the costs involved by the development of sunscreens. The 2006 European Recommendation required that the industrials push their researches to develop a reliable in vitro test. […] These authorities, supported by public and private experts, work to agree on a validated in vitro method, internationally recognized. The standardization bodies (ISO, CEN) think they could get a result within two to three years, at best. Up to then, the only recommended method is the in vivo one to assure of the accuracy of the SPFs, hence, of the safety of the products.”
Let us add that, if two ISO standard are currently available to measure the anti-UVA protection, one, in vivo , the second one, in vitro , published end of July 2012, no in vivo method of measurement of the anti-UVB protection (SPF) is currently validated. The ISO 24444 standard, in vivo , is the reference, and the only one that is accepted by the sanitary authorities as a proof of the claimed SPF.
The tests result
One may wonder why the industry has been so slow to answer the accusations issued in August.
This is partly because Cosmed has duplicated the tests performed by the Nantes researcher, with the same method, to check the results.
“Cosmed has analysed anew 24 of the 32 products tested by L. Coiffard; seven of the products were no longer available when the second tests have been performed,” the association press release details. “The method in use has been the one used by L. Coiffard. […] The analyses have been done by an independent laboratory, under a bailiff control, in full-blind conditions.”
Conclusion: very different results, with, for the same products, important gaps between the figures gotten by the two studies.
“Sixteen products out of twenty-four, e.g. 67%, come with very significantly different SPFs, some being tremendously different,” Cosmed says. “Given this, it is already useless to try and compare the in vivo method to this in vitro method.”
Thus, it is useless to consider another argument by Laurence Coiffard: sunscreens are added with anti-inflammatory ingredients, which may produce in vivo misleading results, by delaying the main skin inflammatory reaction: sunburn.
The last point documented by Cosmed: the measuring equipment used by Laurence Coiffard, after its manufacture’s leaflets, is unsuitable to measure high SPFs …
Controversy, follow-up …
It is up to Cosmed to blame Laurence Coiffard,
“L. Coiffard has used a communication method that flouts the basic rules of caution and scientific probity.
She has committed three wrongdoings:
• a scientific wrongdoing, by using a non-validated method, the results of which, moreover, are vitiated by an obvious error of measurement,
• a professional wrongdoing, as she has performed this study with a clear bias, without any check by independent experts,
• a serious morale wrongdoing to the consumers by playing the public fears, and by explicitly suggesting that the sunscreens available on the market could be a cause for an increased risk of skin cancers.
In order to ensure her of a high media profile, L. Coiffard has gone to a without-restraint vilification campaign against cosmetics companies and sanitary authorities.”
The public at large is often disoriented by debates between experts, especially when the arguments come from two parties with competing interests.
The interest of this answer by Cosmed to the attacks from this academic researcher is, for once, that the industry does not stop hiding behind the fact it is compliant with the regulation, but that it provides also arguments based on the results of its own study.
Who is to settle the debate?
The sanitary authorities and the certification bodies? Maybe… when an in vitro method to measure SPFs is validated. That means at least two to three years henceforth.
The stakeholders in the discussion? Why not…should they are able to discuss calmly about measurement methods and laboratory techniques. Jean-Marc Giroux is not against, “If Ms Coiffard wants to go on with some discussion, let her use the suitable measuring equipment to duplicate her tests, in full blind and with an independent control. Later, we can sit around a table and talk.”
The message is sent.
No doubt that CosmeticOBS-L’Observatoire des Cosmétiques will have to write again on this topic.
In the meantime, let us remind our readers of the advice given by all the experts: the UV harmfulness to our skins is well-known and well documented; a sun protection is essential, even if it is questioned.