What’s the truth about sunscreen and cancer?

A child gets a coating of sunscreen for a safe day at the beach - UnSplash +

Dermatologists are battling social media influencers who urge followers not to use it

With summer beach season about to start, dermatologists are expressing concern about an emerging social media trend. So-called “influencers” are warning followers to avoid sunscreen products.

The Wall Street Journal reports one influencer, with 1 million followers on X, claims there “is no proof that the sun causes cancer.” 

“I don’t wear sunscreen, and I never will,” the influencer, Gubba Homestead wrote in a post. “We blame the sun for cancer when we should be blaming our diets.”

Others on social media have gone so far as to claim that sunscreen products themselves cause cancer. One TikTok influencer claims that far from causing cancer, the sun has healing powers.

That’s partially true. The sun is a great source of vitamin D but doctors say that like almost anything, too much of it can be trouble. Michelle Wong, a chemist who goes by the handle “Lab Muffin Beauty Science,” posted the video below to debunk what she calls the sunscreen myths circulating on TikTok.

Where the idea may have originated

Part of the knock on sunscreens is they allegedly contain carcinogenic ingredients. This idea may stem from Johnson & Johnson’s 2021 recall of a batch of sunscreen products because they were found to contain “low levels” of benzene in five of its six Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreens, despite the chemical not being an ingredient in any of its sunscreen products. 

Even celebrity influencers have turned on sunscreens, urging plenty of water and the right diet instead.

“Those things may have certain health advantages,” Dr. Rajesh Nair, an oncology surgeon with the Orlando Health Cancer Institute, told the Journal. “They certainly don’t do anything to help protect our skin from damage—certainly not from the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.”

The Skin Cancer Foundation says studies have shown that regular daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen, when used as directed, can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by about 40 percent, and lower your melanoma risk by 50 percent.

The foundation says men, women and children over six months of age should use sunscreen every day when outdoors. 

“This includes people who tan easily and those who don’t,” the group says on its website.

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