Sun Protection Brands View Gwyneth Paltrow’s Spotty Sunscreen Application Going Viral As A Teaching Moment
Gwyneth Paltrow recently came under fire for something unrelated to exploding vagina-themed candles or unsubstantiated claims about yoni eggs.
Last week, after Vogue posted a video of the Goop founder and actress sharing her morning beauty routine, beauty influencers and professionals took issue with her sunscreen commentary and application method. Discussing why she uses UnSun Cosmetics’ mineral sunscreen, Paltrow said in the video, “There are a lot of really harsh chemicals in conventional sunscreens so that’s a product that I really want to avoid that isn’t certified by the EWG [Environmental Working Group].” She continued, “I’m not a sort of head-to-toe slatherer of sunscreen, but I like to put some kind of on my nose and the area where the sun really hits.” Paltrow proceeded to apply mineral sunscreen to her nose and cheek area.
Concerned beauty influencers and professionals emphasized her sunscreen application is woefully insufficient. Digital creator Sarah Palmyra wrote in an Instagram post, “This really needs to be called out because this isn’t just another celebrity talking about skincare, this is someone actively working in the beauty industry who sells products targeting the very concerns that her sunscreen application causes.” In a blog post, Caroline Hirons, author of “Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide,” warned Paltrow’s publicized approach to sun care “may have done more to set back the proper use of spf, especially among the 18-34 demographic, since the prevalent use of sunbeds in the 80s.”
The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends adults apply a shot glass worth of SPF 30 or higher to cover their entire bodies. “Apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin,” the organization outlines on its website. Rachel Henderson, co-founder and CEO of the brand Project Sunscreen and a skin cancer sufferer, suggests sunscreen misinformation can be damaging to people’s health. She underscores educating people on proper sun protection is a huge reason why she started Project Sunscreen. Henderson says, “By having someone so influential downplay the importance of sunscreen goes to show that that there is still much work to be done around sun awareness in the U.S.”
Following the Vogue video, Goop released a statement that Paltrow “applies sunscreen to her entire face, though the video is edited down for timing’s sake and does not show the full application.” The statement hasn’t assuaged critics. They argue the video in its current from the wrong message. Tai Adaya, founder and CEO of sunscreen mist specialist Habit, says she was “silently enraged” by the Paltrow video. She explains, “It’s upsetting that wealthy white celebrity women like Gwyneth Paltrow are given platforms to spread health misinformation.”
In the past, Adaya says instances like the Vogue video have lead to distrust of sun care and consumer confusion. “Healthcare is unfortunately extremely inaccessible and politicized in the U.S., more than in other developed countries,” says Adaya. “There is a growing skepticism of science in America, rejection of evidence-based reasoning and radicalization of beliefs.” With Habit, Adaya aims to make the category accessible and approachable by touting sunscreen as a functional healthcare product. She says, “SPF is a drug. Using it daily is the most effective skin longevity and health hack.”
Sara Dudley, CEO of The Sunscreen Company, views the backlash to the video as indicative of how far society has come when it comes to sun protection. “I do not think we would have had this same reaction even five years ago,” she says. “People just did not care about sunscreen and using it every day in the same way.” She adds, “When I first started in the industry in 2008, we worked with the statistic that 80% of people knew they should be applying sunscreen every day, but only 20% actually did. I don’t have a good statistic for how much that might have changed 13 years later, but we’ve certainly seen a ‘tribe’ in the marketing sense emerge of people who are devoted to sunscreen use.”
For every Paltrow misusing sunscreen, there’s a beauty influencer with thousands or millions of followers preaching the value of thorough daily SPF application. “You have examples of people showing how much sunscreen to apply, which started out as the two-finger rule and then you see others saying that three fingers are better,” says Dudley. “There is some competitiveness or sense of outdoing each other.” The sunscreen category has expanded in recent years, too, with fresh innovations and formulations. Per Statista, sun protection is one of the fastest-growing categories of skincare. Fortune Business Insights predicts the market will reach $16.84 billion by 2027.
“Sunscreen has gone from being this utilitarian thing buried in the bottom of somebody’s beach bag to this prestigious and central part of people’s skincare routines and on their vanities,” says Dudley. An upside of having more brands on the shelves is that they help to reinforce the importance of sun protection. Dudley quips, “As internet memes go, sunscreen is now the Kim Kardashian of all the Kardashians in people’s skincare routines.”
At the same time, Dudley recognizes that sunscreen category can be convoluted and thinks it’s OK for consumers to be suspicious. She brings up the Purito sunscreen controversy from December involving a sunscreen that was tested to be at a lower SPF than it marketed, noting she doesn’t think it’s productive to shame people and brands. Instead, she considers public hubbub an opportunity to educate.
“I think of our company as a collection of sunscreen nerds, so I love rising to the increasing challenge of speaking to people about all of the technical complexity that goes into making a truly great sunscreen,” says Dudley. “I’ve always said that sunscreens are icebergs, there is so much that goes on in them that is below their surface. I also think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the tough in-depth questions of people and brands that are showcasing their expertise in the category. You can do it with kindness and positivity. There is no need to break the internet as they say.”
A few years ago, Dudley mentions that the content on The Sunscreen Company’s Instagram account included “really long, technical captions” on topics like “whether titanium dioxide is in a rutile or anatase form is a more salient question than whether it’s nanoscale.'” She felt that the captions made people’s eyes glaze over. Now, with consumer interest in sunscreen information blossoming, the company is looking into sharing detailed information again. Dudley says, “There is clearly a need to translate and make digestible this hardcore academic knowledge so that is something we’ll be exploring.”
Henderson echoes Dudley’s sentiment and regards Paltrow’s viral sunscreen video as a chance to bring attention to the vital role of sunscreen. Both CEOs say their brands have experienced sales upticks recently, but it’s hard to know whether the upticks can be attributed to the controversy, warmer weather, easing pandemic conditions or other dynamics. Henderson says she plans on “continuing to find innovative ways to encourage everyone not only to wear sunscreen but apply it properly.” She stresses, “As a scrappy little startup, we are doing all we can to get out there and spread the word through our social platforms, community outreach and good old-fashioned word of mouth.”
Adaya concurs the video can be a catalyst for education, and reveals she will be dedicating more content to dispelling common SPF myths and misinformation in the future “with the Habit touch of approaching SPF with context and culture.” She recognizes that, despite the Paltrow setback, the tides are quickly changing for sunscreen. Due in part to the pandemic, Adaya says well-being is at the forefront of people’s minds, and she doesn’t expect it to go anywhere. “I believe this decade top of mind will be effectiveness and health,” she says. “When I think about preventive skin health and effectiveness, SPF is No. 1, so I’m extremely excited about the category in the coming years.”
- Last week, Vogue posted a video of the Goop founder and actress Gwyneth Paltrow sharing her morning beauty routine. During it, she applied mineral sunscreen to her nose and select areas of her cheeks.
- The video sparked outrage among beauty influencers and professionals, who criticized Paltrow for not applying sunscreen more fully. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends adults apply a shot glass worth of SPF 30 or higher to cover their entire bodies.
- In a blog post, Caroline Hirons, author of "Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide," warned Paltrow's publicized approach to sunscreen "may have done more to set back the proper use of spf, especially among the 18-34 demographic, since the prevalent use of sunbeds in the 80s."
- Tai Adaya, founder and CEO of sunscreen mist specialist Habit, says she was “silently enraged” by the Paltrow video. She says, “It’s upsetting that wealthy white celebrity women like Gwyneth Paltrow are given platforms to spread health misinformation.”
- Brand founders, however, point out that the response shows sun care knowledge has risen. “I do not think we would have had this same reaction even five years ago,” says Sara Dudley, CEO of The Sunscreen Company.
- Sun protection brands are harnessing Paltrow's viral sunscreen moment to further educate consumers on proper sunscreen application. Rachel Henderson, co-founder and CEO of Project Sunscreen, says, "As a scrappy little startup, we are doing all we can to get out there and spread the word through our social platforms, community outreach and good old-fashioned word of mouth."
- In general, sun care brands are increasingly leaning into supplying sunscreen information to consumers hungry for it. Habit, for example, will be creating more content to dispelling common SPF myths and misinformation.