Zoe Foster Blake says TGA code could reverse sunscreen health message

Influencer and author Zoe Foster Blake has accused the medical regulator of potentially reversing years of public health efforts to get Australians to wear sunscreen in a scathing message about its new social media code.

Ahead of the launch of her new 50+ sunscreen today, Foster Blake hit out at the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s new code, which restricts influencers from publishing testimonials offering their personal experience or opinions, if they have been paid or gifted certain products or services for free.

“I believe elements of this code have the potential to reverse the momentum public health, cancer awareness groups, and skin specialists have been building for years to ensure Australians wear sunscreen daily,” the author and founder of Go-To skincare wrote in a newsletter to subscribers and to her 786,000 Instagram followers.

Zoe Foster Blake wants influencers on social media to be able to say what they want about sunscreen.Credit:James Brickwood

“I know we’re not curing cancer. But we are trying our very best to help prevent people from unnecessarily getting it.”

Using influencers on social media has become central to the marketing strategies of many companies. The TGA implemented the code in an attempt to rein in the wild west of health claims and some of the dubious information being spread to masses on various social media platforms.

Under the code, which came into effect on July 1, influencers were also ordered to remove historical testimonials that had been paid for, gifted or incentivised, or risk being penalised.

The code relates specifically to products that are advertised as being for therapeutic use – that’s treating an injury, treating illness or, importantly in this climate, preventing illness. Some products that do have a therapeutic use, like sunscreen, tampons, and disinfectants, also fall under the ban.

“I understand the code exists to protect the consumer; to stop frivolous, dangerous, and disingenuous reviews of medical products,” Foster Blake wrote. “We back anything that helps consumers make safe, informed decisions about their products; at Go-To we put safety above all, and never more so than with sunscreen. But the code lacks critical nuance.”

She continued: “And this could be very detrimental for sunscreen usage in Australia, a country where melanoma is the #1 cancer for people aged 20-39.”

Urging the TGA to reconsider the “severe restrictions” and “breathtaking penalties”, she argued that people discover beauty products, including sunscreen, via word of mouth recommendations.

“Constraining personal opinions and testimonials – whether unpaid, paid or gifted – will create unnecessary friction for consumers who come to sunscreen reluctantly, even negatively, to begin with,” she said.

The TGA has been contacted for comment.

Skin cancer accounts for the largest number of cancers diagnosed in Australia each year and two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.

Exposure to ultra-violet (UV) radiation via sun exposure is estimated to cause around 95 per cent of melanoma cases in Australia, and excessive childhood sun exposure may impart a particularly high risk for developing melanoma.

SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97 per cent, while SPF 50 sunscreens about 98 per cent of UV rays.

The Cancer Council recommends daily sunscreen use along with wearing a hat, sunglasses and staying in the shade when the sun is hottest, in the middle of the day.

Under the TGA code, Australian influencers can still endorse – or advertise – therapeutic products. They must simply disclose an advertisement with hashtags like #Ad or the words “paid partnership”.

Dr Ian Musgrave, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, previously told this publication that strict rules are sadly necessary.

“While this may seem heavy-handed, advertising therapeutics, even ones as innocuous as sunscreen, requires high ethical standards,” he said.

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