Rule of thumb: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is — and, as convenient as it would be, the ambitious concept of “drinkable sunscreen” falls squarely into the generally harmless category of things that would be nice to have but are not feasible with science as we know it. Claim that a bottle of water somehow harnesses proprietary radio frequencies to protect skin from the sun with each sip and sell it to unsuspecting sun worshippers for $30, however, and things veer straight into fraud territory.
In March, the Iowa Office of the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Colorado-based companies Osmosis Skincare LLC and Harmonized Water LLC, both owned and founded by Benjamin Taylor Johnson, MD, for doing just that with the Harmonized H2O UV Neutralizer. Yesterday, the court announced that it would accept a $70,000 settlement from the makers of the product.
Under Iowa law, a seller must have a “reasonable basis” for claiming that its product can perform certain functions, and according to the lawsuit, Osmosis claimed without substantiation that the water (which contains one ingredient: water) made “scalar waves” “vibrate” above the skin, thus effectively blocking carcinogenic UV radiation. “It’s flat-out dangerous to consumers to make them think without any proof that this water protects them from what we know is proven — potentially cancer-causing exposure to the sun,” Attorney General Tom Miller said.
This particular product has faced criticism since it first launched back in 2014. “There is no testing of this product nor approval by the FDA,” dermatologist Susan Stuart, MD, told us at the time. “Anecdotal reports or claims of effectiveness mean nothing when compared with scientific studies validated by multiple medical centers.” The initial lawsuit also revealed that, while Osmosis boasted Johnson’s status as a licensed doctor, they don’t disclose that he surrendered his Colorado medical license in disciplinary proceedings in 2001 and never got it back — which adds another layer to the consumer-fraud case.
As for Johnson, part of the settlement indicated that Osmosis would not admit to any wrongdoing, but he told the Denver Business Journal in an email that the company would be “modifying some of the marketing used to describe our cutting edge technology.” (We’ve reached out to the brand for further comment.) Hopefully the company’s new-and-improved marketing tactics will acknowledge the fact that the sunscreen goes on the skin.