Bottles of water sold as drinkable sunscreen may indeed be drinkable, bottled and water — but the small, $30-a-pop products were so far from sunscreen that they were fraudulent, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Iowa District Court in Polk County. The Iowa attorney general’s office alleges that Colorado-based companies Osmosis and Harmonized Water deceived Iowa consumers by advertising water with properties it did not have.
“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,” said Tom Miller, Iowa’s attorney general, in a statement on Tuesday.
Osmosis and Harmonized Water are owned by Benjamin Taylor Johnson, of Evergreen, Colo. The Washington Post was unable to reach Johnson late Wednesday night. But he told BuzzFeed in a statement that the lawsuit was “full of falsities and misleading statements.”
In the statement, Johnson said that Miller had a “personal agenda.” The lawsuit, he said, “claims to represent Iowans and yet we have only sold roughly 35 bottles of UV Neutralizer into Iowa in the 5 years it has been for sale. He has no complaints or reports of individuals being burned so we still don’t understand why he thought this was an important spend of taxpayers money.”
The Iowa attorney general’s office noted that Johnson, who made references to his medical degree in ads for the sunscreen, lost his license to practice medicine in Colorado in 2001. Johnson holds a license to practice medicine in California, BuzzFeed reported.
Sunscreen lotion contains a mixture of inorganic and organic compounds that deflect or absorb ultraviolet radiation, forming a helpful barrier on the skin.
The drinkable sunscreen, called the UV Neutralizer, claimed nothing so mundane. The water was first imprinted with vibrating frequencies, its makers said. (A hallmark of “classic pseudo-science,” as Miller pointed out.) Once spritzed into a user’s mouth, the neutralizer created “scalar waves” that negated harmful rays for three hours.
“We allege that Johnson and his companies put consumers at considerable risk by claiming that spraying UV Neutralizer into their mouths will provide hours of sun protection,” Miller said. “These defendants admit that this product’s only ingredient is water, and we allege they can’t support their highly questionable claims that they can specially treat ordinary water to take on a wide range of health-enhancing properties.”
A water-based mosquito repellent that similarly created an anti-bug “vibrating shield,” called Harmonized H2O Mosquito, will also not work as advertised, pointed out the attorney’s office.
“If the claims being made by this company were true, then the ‘founder and formulator’ Dr. Ben Johnson would be up for several Nobel Prizes, in physics, chemistry, and medicine,” wrote Steven Novella, a neurology professor at Yale University’s School of Medicine, at the website Science-Based Medicine.
One piece of evidence Osmosis presented on its website, a document the form of an unpublished clinical trial, was described in the lawsuit as “dubious.” The study contained no control group using, for instance, a standard 30 SPF sunscreen. It was not peer-reviewed, blinded nor submitted to a medical journal.
(Two of the study subjects were the study author’s wife and son, the lawsuit said. And the study itself pointed out eight of 24 people who took the UV Neutralizer burned after an hour of exposure to the San Diego sun, including three subjects who had “significant sunburns.”)
The attorney general’s office said that the seller failed to provide a reasonable basis for the benefits touted by the products, a requirement under Iowa law.
“It’s bad enough when a consumer wastes money on a product that doesn’t work,” Miller said. “But it’s much worse when someone relies on a product to prevent serious harm, and it just doesn’t deliver.”
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