This May, Health Canada began receiving unusual complaints about sunscreen causing burns rather than preventing them. The victims ranged from three months to 30-years-old and were located across Canada, but each complained about Banana Boat sunscreen and the painful, sometimes quite extensive burns it caused. The case has caught the interest of product liability lawyers and safety advocates around the country.
In Chilliwack, British Columbia, Raphaelle Beaudoin applied Banana Boat Baby SPF 60 Sunscreen to her son’s face, which turned bright red. The redness subsided the next day, replaced by skin that was “really, really rough-feeling, almost like sandpaper,” she told the CBC. “Very reminiscent of a burn.”
By early June, Banana Boat had released a statement reassuring families “that all Banana Boat products undergo rigorous testing to ensure safety and quality before they are placed in the market.” However, the complaints continued to flood in. Health Canada received 26 complaints in May; by July 17 they had received more than 200.
In Saskatoon, Global News spoke with 24-year-old Erin Belsher who sustained large burns on her legs after applying Banana Boat SPF 60 Sport Performance Sunscreen. The burns developed into extensive blisters that prevented her from walking for days. She eventually visited St. Paul’s Hospital where she was diagnosed with second-degree burns. She says she may have permanent pigment damage.
As of mid-July Health Canada has not taken any specific action. Product liability lawyers are carefully monitoring the case.
In a statement to Global News, Banana Boat made clear that “Health Canada has not made any link between our product and the consumer complaints.” The statement asserted that “Banana Boat sunscreens fall within a neutral pH range, which means they are safe for human skin, topical use and cannot cause chemical burns.”
The company posited that some of the victims’ symptoms could be attributed to “sensitivity to an ingredient” that can be “triggered or exacerbated by the sun. This type of photoallergic reaction,” the statement continues, “can result in an exaggerated skin rash or sunburn. In more severe cases, blistering may also develop.”
A Health Canada spokesperson, meanwhile, told the CBC in an email that the agency will pursue “enforcement action, as appropriate, should any non-compliance or risk to health be identified.”
But is that enough for the burn victims? Will they demand compensation for the injuries they have sustained? If Banana Boat products are not recalled and an individual suffers life-changing injuries, will the company be held liable?