Thailand
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Did I Just Buy Knock-Off Sunblock?

sunscreen-burn-fake-thailand-burnt-sun-samui-sunscreen-risk-knock-off

I am laying in the air-conditioned darkness of my hotel room thinking, ‘Did I just buy a bottle of knock-off sunblock?’


Is counterfeit sunscreen a thing?

Here are the condemning facts: 

At eleven a.m. I walked to a ‘pharmacy’ (essentially a minimally stocked drugstore) and purchased a bottle of SPF-30 sunscreen. 

The product in question is Samui Sun; Samui  of course, referencing the island of Ko Samui. The packaging further reads, ‘Coconut sun protect‘ and boasts that it ‘protects against sun burn and premature skin ageing‘ (verbatim, misspelling included). Two for the win, right?

29 days into our trip I was confident I had established a base tan, less the slightly less visible veins on my forearms. (A testament to living in snowy Prince George, Canada for the last five years, and one I am eager to remedy.) Given the perceived base tan, I would do this by purchasing sunscreen that was less than the SPF-60 my Dad-Pants Boyfriend bought for us.  

Speaking of Greg. He signed up for a two-day advanced open water diving certificate, which I decided to take a pass on. Instead, I figured I’d work earnestly towards bronzing those forearms.

Back to today.

After returning from the pharmacy with my sunscreen I applied the lotion nearly 45 minutes before hitting the beach. (Because that’s the sun safe thing to do.) Then I packed up and found a spot on a gorgeous, white sand beach. I cracked Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and punched my time card. 

For the next two hours I drank in the hot mid-day sun. Feeling a little toasty I re-applied individual body parts as I felt they deserved it.

At the two-hour mark I took a mandatory sun break. I moved to a beach vendor’s table under some palms and ordered an orange Fanta. Through my sunglasses I could tell that my arms and thighs were slowly burning pink. What the hell? I pulled at the edge of my bathing suit bottoms. An alarming contrast of red and white revealed itself. What the f***

I promptly packed up and hoofed it back to Big Blue Diving Resort. I jumped in the shower to evaluate the damage.  Not good. Every serious sunburn I had ever suffered – and their respective suck-factors – flashed through my mind.

“Piece of $#!* @#$%^&* sunscreen!”

Shortly thereafter my thoughts turned to a girl in my dive course who had arrived on Ko Tao with heavily bandaged shoulders. Initially I presumed she had recently been inked at one of Thailand’s many tattoo shops. Wrong. She had fallen asleep on the ferry ride here in a tank-top. She said she had slept for 45 minutes, resulting in 3rd-degree burns. I had just been outside, fully awake, for TWO HOURS. I panicked. 

My next thought: I have to get to a medical clinic. Surely I’ll be submerged in an ice bath and slathered in topical burn cream. I bet 40% of my body is burnt!

I grabbed some money, keys, the sunscreen in question, and a scarf, and set out to find a clinic.  Being on a party island in Thailand, I quickly located one 150 feet from my room. 

‘Sawadee Kah!!! Look I am very burnt!’ I tugged the scarf away from my shoulder, pushing the strap of my dress aside. The Thai woman turned her attention from a pirated movie. She handed me some green aloe vera. “No look, it is very bad!” This time I pulled up my dress and drew her attention to my bikini bottoms, revealing the burn line. She reached back into the case and handed me a bottle of blue burn relief lotion. I thrust forward the Samui Sun lotion.  “I bought this today, now I am burnt. Is it bad? Is it a good company?”

She replied in the affirmative, then looked at the bottle I was holding “Here is only 280 baht.”

Well thank you Mrs. Clinic Lady for informing me that I had paid a 200 baht premium for this fetching sunburn.

And then she attempted to short-changed me 100 baht on the blue lotion, unbelievable!! Panicked or not I can still subtract 230 from 1,000.

I returned to my room. Kind of. In my panic I had brought my luggage locker key with me, rather than my room key. Fail. Then in the process of borrowing the master key from reception, they handed me the key for room 22, not 202. Back to the lobby I went, completely self-conscious of the crispy red burn. 

Which brings me to this moment.

I’m laying on a towel on my bed, under the fan, with the AC cranked after taking two cold showers. I am as red as a lobster (no exaggeration) and have 2-mm of slimy blue aloe painting on my burns, which gives me a splotchy purple appearance. Most upsetting (to me) are the two obvious raccoon eyes I have. my over-sized Raybans are etched onto my cheeks. Once this burn transforms to a tan, at best I am going to look like a career ski instructor and at worst, a bearded woman. 

At this point I am convinced that the primary ingredient of ‘Samui Sun Coconut Sun Protect’ is coconut. Buying a local Thai sunscreen, I fear I have fallen into a tourist trap.

Seriously, I can’t believe the woman at the store short changed me?! 

Written in a dark, burning place. 

Were you burnt by knock-off Samui Sun ‘suncreen’? Let me know, comment below.

23 Comments

  1. S.steele says

    Oh my god…. I am not alone. My factor 30 Nivea ran out today so i bought the exact same product that you bought. I apply my sun cream very regularly and liberally, and I too had a good base tan. After 2 hours my friends noticed I was very pink and I was as shocked as you were! I rushed back and after showering the burns intensified and now I soooooo red! I stormed back to the pharmacy and showed the lady all my burns lines and demanded a refund. I’m in pain and upset bit most of all I am furious that this sun cream exists! It’s disgusting and should be taken off the shelves…. Wish i could tell everyone not to purchase it.

  2. S.steele says

    PS dare I ask how many days it took for the burn to go down?

  3. It really is criminal! I felt so negligent but I really do think the product is crap. I stayed in bed for 72 straight hours, drinking as much water as possible and laying aloe Vera on thick. During that period I also popped Tylenol for pain but also because of the fever and shakes. After that I had a day of condensation (blistering) collecting under the damaged skin before I opted to start peeling, which seemed to expedite healing. At that point I switched to body lotion.

  4. Silje says

    Hi! I’m in Thailand now, and used the exact same sunscreen two days ago. Three hours in the sun resulted in severe burns and even blisters. The blisters have fortunately calmed down, but today it was my face’s turn. I look like I have a serious skin disease. Hopefully, it will heal OK. I don’t understand how they can sell this product when it’s actually dangerous. Next time I’m buying three bottles of Piz Buin. Too bad it’s too difficult to warn anyone of the dangers

  5. I cringe every time I get feedback about this product! I’m sorry that this happened to you too. My blog is just about the only site that comes up when googling ‘Samui Sun’ so I am getting a fair bit of traffic. Shame.

  6. Wilbur says

    A few weeks ago I slathered on Samui Sun SPF 40+ and still got badly burnt. This was on top of some proper Cancer Council Australia approved sunscreen, so I can’t blame Samui 100%, but it sure seemed thin and unsubstantial when I was applying it.

    Of course, sunscreen only reduces the amount of sun damage you receive – it doesn’t eliminate it. To lie for 2 hours in the midday sun is inadvisable at the best times, let alone somewhere like Thailand where the UV index is off the chart.

  7. Gemma says

    Me and my husband are on our honeymoon and just after 3 days our spay sun cream stopped working off to the shop we went and brought the Samui sunscreen for 280brt and guess what after 2 hours we are both lay in bed red and sore

    Do do do do not buy

  8. Fairly certain it’s just body lotion and soap…bright red but smelling great and soft sizzling skin!

    • Lee says

      I’ve only just come across this blog after using this 30 SPF product today and wondering why the hell after only 2 hours in the sun both myself and my girlfriend look like lobsters. Now I know! 🙁

      Looking at the replies above it seems we’ve all fallen into the trap of assuming that a product like this will have been tested fully. Lesson well and truly learned.

      -Lee

      • Sorry to hear this Lee. Every time I get a new comment on the blog, I’m always hoping it’s not for this post but it usually is. Please caution everyone and anyone heading to Thailand know about it.

    • K says

      Just been burnt by this disgusting product and will also review on trip advisor. I’m in bed in agony I am pregnant and I can not get burnt and I’m so worried about my baby. I am disgusted this scam is able to occur.

      I will be taking this product to the pharmacy I bought it and shoving it down their throats. Before buying this I was already burnt and stressed how important it was I bought a reliable product and this is what I was sold for the price of 480 baht!!!! I am LIVID and will happily kill whoever has designed this scam product. I am going to put a warning on trip advisor. This company has no website what a surprise. It is disgusting!!!!

      • So sorry to hear this Kirsten. I remember how panicked I was for myself, let alone the tiny life inside you. Your story has prompted me to email the Canadian government’s travel advisory department to ask for some help about communicating the dangers of this product.

  9. Wilbur says

    I’ve just contacted Lonely Planet and informed them of this scan. With any luck it might appear in their next Thailand edition.

    • K says

      Thank you. I can’t believe there is no warning out there about this. Advising lonely planet is a good idea. I noticed last night that no Boots stores carry Samui sun. Only the Thai pharmacies with the green plus sign do- there is a chain of these “pharmacies” called ‘nice pharmacy’ on chaweng strip. When I went to request a refund they were anything but nice. Were rude and of course said no refund. He actually agreed with me the product was faulty and I literally screamed at him asking wth he was selling it for and he just shrugged. Also was busy watching tv when serving me both times.

      I wish I’d seen the boots store first and I’d not be in this position. Ill never be buying Thai brands for cosmetics products ever again and will never use Thai pharmacies again as who knows what other drugs etc are just fake or not what you think it is.

      Last three days of trip ruined. I can’t even wear clothes at all so just lying in the room with ice towels on me crying.

  10. Kati says

    Hi. The very same happened to me. I have been here nearly 2 weeks and i had a good base tan. When i applied this factor 30 my chest is so so burnt. Its like third degree burns. Full of blisters. Disgrace. They should not sell them. Is there any way i could track the manufacturer down??

  11. Kati, I am so bummed to hear about your experience. I remember how devastated and angry I was. I wish I could broadcast to the internet the dangers of the product. I do think you could investigate the supply chain thoroughly enough to identify the manufacturer. However, I wonder to what end or result? Unfortunately, it’s only after sun seekers are burnt that they land here on my page. I too was wondering how to best disseminate a warning. One commenter above mentioned writing a travel guide.

    Today I’ve been motivated to do so as well. I invite you and others to submit a form to Lonely Planet at http://www.lonelyplanet.com/contact/

    Share your experiences/horrifying pictures on your own social media and when you’re hanging out in the kitchen at a party regaling a small audience about Full Moon parties don’t forget to mention Samui Sun.

  12. Human Lobster says

    I am amazed by the time period between me writing and when the blogpost was first published. I am writing as I also am a victim of this cruel joke of a sun lotion. I ran out of my Piz Buin 30SPF from which I moved to Nivea Sun 20SPF, no problems there… When I run out of my Nivea I decided to buy something local which turned out to be a big f#&$: mistake. I spent 3,5 hours on the beach of which 2,5 hours under the sun. My body is burnt from my toes to my forehead. To clarify facts on basetan I have been sunbathing for 11 days before this with strict time frames for adding sun block during the daytime and aloevera in the evening. I am really pissed off because the money I saved on this sun block purchase was roughly 5 € but the aftermath has cost me almost 45 € in Aloevera products. In everything bad there is always something good. What is good is that I will never buy this scam product and I will alway buy known brands.
    I am sad in knowing that my precise efforts on getting a good looking tan hase been taken away by some scammer leaving me with sleapless nights, pain and a bad memory of this trip.
    I will inform my travel agency of this product, I will also inform the hotel where I am staying about this product. This will be my penny/step to warn people about this product.

  13. Kim says

    Wow can’t believe it has happened to so many people I went to Phuket Thailand with my family I had used Nivea SPF 30 that I got back home, we had run out 2 days before we was due to leave so brought a SPF 50 Nivea which cost 595bht we applied every 30 mins as it was in it high 30s within 24 hrs my daughter had large blisters on both arms. People going on holiday need to be made aware of the dangers of buying fake suncreams be safe and buy back home have to much rather than not enough

  14. Paul Baxter says

    My friend and I both have sun stroke today following using this cream yesterday. Very serious!

    • Ugh – I’m sorry to hear it Paul. It suuuuucks 🙁
      Get better soon. (Have a coconut shake for me!)

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