Influencers Are Spreading Dangerous Misinformation by Saying Sunscreen Causes Cancer — and People Believe Them

A growing number of influential content creators are claiming that sunscreen causes cancer, leading many people to put their skin — and overall health — at risk

<p>Tom Merton</p> Stock image of a woman rubbing sunscreen on herself.

Tom Merton

Stock image of a woman rubbing sunscreen on herself.

A growing — and influential — number of content creators are spreading misinformation that using sunscreen causes cancer and blocks the sun's benefits, despite years of scientific research proving that too much sun exposure leads to skin cancer.

Skin cancer is also the most common form of cancer, with 1 in 5 Americans developing it in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

“Excess exposure to UV radiation from sunlight or use of indoor tanning also increases risk for all skin cancer types, as does a personal history of the disease,” the AAD says, adding “the majority of melanoma cases are attributable to UV exposure.”

Yet influencers like Riley Check — who posts on X under the username @holisticgrenade — broadcast misleading statements like, “People who wear sunscreen are always getting skin cancer.” That Tweet that had nearly 60,000 views.

And another content creator, Gubba Homestead, shared a video of herself red-faced in the sunshine, writing, “I don’t wear sunscreen, and I never will. We blame the sun for cancer when we should be blaming our diets…Sunscreen and a poor diet will make you sick.”

That video had 1.2 million views.

<p>George Clerk/Getty</p> Stock image of a bottle of sunscreen.

George Clerk/Getty

Stock image of a bottle of sunscreen.

"There is no such thing as a safe tan. A tan is an injury," Krista M. Rubin, NP, from the Mass General Cancer Center Melanoma Team told PEOPLE. "Repeated sunburns can lead to irreversible DNA damage and immune suppression. These factors can lead to the development of skin cancer."

Yet even some celebrities are continuing to spout dangerous beliefs that sunscreen keeps you from getting the sun's full benefits.

Laguna Beach alum Kristin Cavallari recently said she doesn’t wear sunscreen, and featured a holistic doctor on her podcast, Let’s Be Honest, who talked about the “nourishing” benefits of the sun.

And while the sun does promote vitamin D production, Rubin told PEOPLE "there is not a safe level of UV exposure from the sun that allows for maximum vitamin D synthesis without increasing the risk of skin cancer."

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A recent Wall Street Journal article on this online trend states that sunscreen skepticism was fueled by a report that discovered certain sunscreens contained benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer with repeated exposure over time. This led some people to believe that sunscreen causes, rather than prevents, cancer.

But dermatologists on TikTok are quick to debunk those claims.

As Dr. Whitney Bowe pointed out, “Yes there were a few sunscreens that were contaminated with benzenes, which is a known carcinogen. However, that was not a sunscreen issue. That was just a contamination issue. A supply chain issue.”

She continued, “The same way that every once in a while, a batch of romaine gets contaminated with E. Coli, it doesn’t mean you should stop eating lettuce.”

And as another dermatologist pointed out in a TikTok stitch of the Cavallari’s podcast, “What these wellness gurus will not tell is you is that our ancestors, they didn’t get skin cancers not because they were somehow immune to DNA damage from ultraviolet radiation, but rather — newsflash — they died before the average age of onset of skin cancer."

As the American Cancer Society points out, the average age for a skin cancer diagnosis is 66.

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Related: Andy Roddick Had a Cancerous Tumor Removed from His Lip: 'Put Sunscreen on Your Kids'

As Rubin told PEOPLE, "At this time, there is little evidence supporting that sunscreens are dangerous, but there is clearcut evidence that excessive UV radiation is a carcinogen."

And skin cancer is just one negative effect of sun exposure, Rubin said.

"There are many proven risks of sun exposure without protection, including premature aging, sunburns, scarring, skin discoloration, change in skin texture — to dry, “leathery", or wrinkly — immune system suppression, eye damage, such as the development of cataracts, and of course, skin cancer," Rubin said.

Put bluntly, Rubin said: "There are no benefits to being in the sun without sunscreen and any exposure to the sun without sun protection is not advised."

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