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Sunscreen myths debunked: Don’t fall for social media’s anti-sunscreen posts!

Influencers on social media have been advocating an anti-sunscreen movement, encouraging people to stop using sunscreen. But stop believing sunscreen myths!
A woman applying sunscreen
An anti-sunscreen movement is doing the rounds on social media which claims that sunscreen leads to skin cancer and shouldn't be used. Image courtesy: Freepik
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 21 Jun 2024, 01:21 pm IST
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Have you come across social media posts telling you that sunscreen does more harm than good? These Tik-Tok and Instagram posts claim that sunscreen is an unnecessary addition to your skincare regime, and also blocks out any chance of natural exposure to sunlight! The reality is that while exposure to the sun can help you in a variety of ways such as getting enough vitamin D, regulating your sleep cycle and even helping you feel better, the UV rays can cause irreversible damage to your skin. This is why it is important to add a sunscreen to your skin care routine. Let us debunk some sunscreen myths and smash the anti-sunscreen movement!

Why do we use sunscreen?

Sunscreen is a topical skin-case product that is used to help protect the skin from the sun rays. “The main purpose of applying sunscreen is to help the skin protect itself against the harmful UV radiation emitted from the sun. These rays can cause development of skin cancer over long-term exposure,” explains dermatologist Dr Priyanka Kuri. Sunscreen creates a barrier where the UV rays cannot penetrate the skin. Regular usage can also prevent skin burns and early ageing.

However, there are not many people who understand the true significance of using sunscreen regularly. Orlando Health Cancer Institute surveyed the awareness of sunscreen, and it was seen that one in seven adults, under the age of 35 years, thought that daily application of sunscreen harms skin much more than direct exposure to sunlight. Around 23 percent of those surveyed also believed that drinking water could help protect the skin from exposure to direct sunlight. This might be why the anti-sunscreen movement has gained momentum.

What is the anti-sunscreen movement?

Social Media influencers have been advocating a movement to avoid the use of sunscreen. They say there is an association between sun exposure, sunscreen and cancer. They claim that sunscreen is full of chemicals, and can even cause cancer. Influencers supporting this movement also claim that sunscreen can lead to vitamin D deficiency, and can also weaken your immune system. A series of videos have also been doing the rounds to make your DIY sunscreen from coconut oil.

Myth: Sunscreen causes cancer

Not sunscreen, but sun exposure can cause cancer. “The sun emits ultraviolet radiation which can cause damage and early ageing of the skin which can lead to skin cancer,” explains Dr Kuri. UV rays damage the DNA which is present on the skin and damaged skin cells can result in the growth of cancer cells. The American Journal of Public Health says that there is no relationship between topical sunscreen use and an increased risk of cutaneous malignant melanoma, a tumour. Additionally, the Skin Cancer Foundation states that 90 per cent of nonmelanoma skin cancers as well as 80 per cent of melanomas are due to the UV rays present in sunlight.

A bottle of sunscreen
Contrary to what the anti-sunscreen movements claims, sunscreen actually protects skin from cancer. Image courtesy: Freepik

Myth: Sunscreens are full of harmful chemicals

This might not always be true. Some reports suggest that some chemicals in a few sunscreens might not be as healthy as we think they are. Chemical sunscreens have benzoin and benzine. Some studies indicate a chronic usage of R-benzoin and benzoin which lead to skin cancers. A study, published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, also claimed that 16 octocrylene-based sunscreen products contained benzophenone.

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However, this does not mean that you must avoid all sunscreens. mineral-based sunscreens are safer than chemical-based ones. “Mineral-based sunscreens can prevent allergic reactions as they are devoid of chemicals such as fragrances and or preservatives and are organic,” explains Dr Kuri. It would be advisable to consult a medical professional to get an idea of which sunscreen is suitable.

Myth: Sunscreen leads to vitamin D deficiency

Another myth doing the rounds, thanks to the anti-sunscreen movement, is that sunscreen can cause vitamin D deficiency in your body. This is not true. A study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, states that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the use of sunscreen can cause vitamin D deficiency. They did so by evaluating four experimental studies, three field trials and 69 observational studies conducted on the topic.

Myth: Skin cancer cases increased when people started using sunscreen

While the number of skin cancer cases has been increasing, this is because of better medical detection and diagnosis tests, more sun exposure and longer life expectancy, states the American Cancer Society. The American Academy of Dermatology Association states that excessive exposure to UV radiation from sunlight or artificial tanning, as well as sunburns, can increase your chance of skin cancer.

A woman holding sunscreen
SPF, broad spectrum and water resistance must be qualities to look for in a sunscreen. Image courtesy: Freepik

How to select a good sunscreen?

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests that there must be three factors kept in mind while deciding on a good sunscreen.

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1. SPF 30 or higher

The key factor to determine a good sunscreen among the other sunscreens is the high SPF. SPF is the Sun Protection Factor which offers extra defence against UV radiation. It is recommended to use a sunscreen that offers 30 and above SPF. “The SPF need for skin varies depending on the location’s temperature and humidity,” says Dr Kuri.

2. Broad-spectrum protection

Another point is Broad Spectrum, which means the sunscreen can protect the skin against Ultraviolet A and B rays which are both causes of cancer.

3. Water resistance

It’s recommended to check if the sunscreen is water resistant. There are no waterproof sunscreens. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied after exposure to water. Also, wait for 10-15 minutes for it to settle, before you go into water. Read here to understand the right way to apply sunscreen.

What are the other ways to protect yourself from the sun?

Besides using sunscreen, there are many ways to protect your skin from sun damage. The first one is to wear protective clothing. Wearing hats and holding parasols shield people from direct sun rays. Also, wearing tightly woven fabric clothes such as denim jeans, clothes with darker colours as dark colours absorb radiation more efficiently than lighter colours and wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes provide better protection. It is also best to seek places with shade. The peak hours where sun rays are the strongest are between 10 AM to 4 PM.

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About the Author

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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