A sunscreen marketed for children and sold by the Neutrogena Corporation, a Johnson & Johnson brand, is at the center of a proposed class action lawsuit over allegations that the product costs more than a virtually identical adult-marketed Neutrogena sunscreen. 

Neutrogena Pure & Free baby zinc oxide SPF 50, a sunscreen stick, costs almost twice as much as Neutrogena Mineral Ultra Sheer sunscreen stick, despite the fact that both products contain the same amount of the active ultraviolet light-blocking active ingredient, zinc oxide. 

In addition, 12 of the 13 inactive ingredients contained in both products are found in near-identical quantities, a 12-page lawsuit alleges, according to a class action news site. The only difference in the formulation between the two products, according to the lawsuit, is that the thirteenth and least-predominant ingredient is oat kernel oil in the baby sunscreen, while the adult version uses tocopheryl acetate, a form of vitamin E. 

The difference between the thirteenth ingredient in the respective formulas does not account for the price discrepancy, the lawsuit alleges, adding that parents who purchase Neutrogena’s Pure & Free baby zinc oxide are misled into believing that the product is a superior product for their infant’s needs in comparison to the adult version of the sunscreen. 

Neutrogena’s Pure & Free baby zinc oxide sunscreen stick costs $16.96 on a per-ounce basis while Mineral Ultra Sheer costs $8.65. “This price discrepancy confirms to parents they are buying different products, because they will not, at the point-of-purchase, theorize as to other explanations,” reads the complaint. 

The complaint also alleges that Johnson & Johnson’s marketing practices in selling Neutrogena Pure & Free baby sunscreen amount to a “kid tax,” which is similar to the so-called “pink tax” allegation against companies who sell products geared to women at a higher price than a virtually-identical product sold to men. 

“The ‘kids’ tax’ exists because studies have shown that demand for children’s versions of personal care products is inelastic, since parents are less sensitive to paying higher prices when they believe they are buying products specifically formulated for their children,” the lawsuit contends.