Influencers claim some SPFs are ‘more cancerous’ than sun – experts weigh in

Influencers are urging fans to avoid some ‘dangerous’ sun creams – but experts strongly disagree.

With summer just around the corner, many Brits will be slapping on SPF to bask in some very overdue sun. But so-called online health gurus are now casting doubt on some of our trusted protectant lotions, amid claims they are ‘more cancerous’ than solar rays.

Labels such as ‘toxic’, ‘extremely carcinogenic’, and ‘hormone disrupting’ have been thrown around by a cohort of sun cream rejecters on social media. Among them is Renee Moussa, known as ‘The Health Girl’ on TikTok, who shared her controversial views in a recent video.

“Just thinking about how everyone at the beach is smothering themselves with specific sunscreens that are more cancerous than the sun,” she advised her 162k followers (@holistichealingla’). “If your sunscreen contains oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate or titanium dioxide, throw it out. Opt for zinc oxide instead.”

This bold statement inevitably led to a wave of bewildered reactions, with one user querying: “What’s the dangers of titanium dioxide please and what’s your source? Can you back it up? ,” while others pleaded: “Can you give us your best sunscreens? “, and expressed: “I’m soooo confused.”

In response to the sunburn incident, Renee claimed that many conventional sun lotions contain disruptive ingredients for our endocrine systems. This leads to, she said, ‘hell-raising hormonal imbalances, PCOS, hair loss, hormonal acne and mood disorders’.

She told The Mirror: “I’ve never encouraged people to not do something. I provide information, and it’s up to them to make the best choice for themselves. People have autonomy, and my goal is to educate them to make better health choices for themselves, as I believe prevention is the best medicine.

“In this specific case, I urge people to choose a zinc oxide mineral based sunscreen with no harmful additives or ingredients. Other sunscreens are extremely harmful.”

Others have gone a step further, including Instagrammer Ramona Marian (@ramona__marian’), who firmly states her refusal to apply anything to her body that ‘doesn’t come from nature’. She advocates for zinc-based products instead.

“The big names and everything you find in every shop as a sun cream is actually a killer. For our body and the environment (ocean),” she informed her 2.3k followers.

In a follow-up conversation with The Mirror, she also added, “My philosophy is really simple, if it doesn’t come from nature, if I cannot eat it and it’s not safe for my body, I don’t put it on my body.”

So, does sunscreen cause more harm than good? These influencers’ beliefs have certainly triggered a storm among experts, including Dr Gareth, a senior lecturer at Chester Medical School.

“Applying sun cream remains the best way to protect ourselves from the sun and skin cancer,” he informed The Mirror. “This idea that SPFs have toxic ingredients come from a study a few years ago now which looked at absorption of chemicals following application in 24 people. Each group only had six participants for each SPF type.

“In this study, the authors actually state ‘results do not indicate that individuals should refrain from the use of sunscreen’ which seems to have been missed.”

Avobenzone, oxybenzone and octocrylene are among the chemicals of concern listed by those avoiding sunscreen. While studies show these can increase the growth of cancers among animals, this was only at very high concentrations.

The ingredients can also disrupt hormones in the body, but various UK brands of lotion don’t even use them. Importantly, Renee lives in the US, and Ramona works across retreats in Bali – both countries have different pharmaceutical vetting systems.

Dr Nye added: “Having recently looked at a leading brand sun cream available in the UK (Nivea) they clearly state ‘the formula respects the ocean by being free of UV filters octinoxate, oxybenzone, octocrylene and free of microplastic’.

“So, this concern is all moot now if the chemicals of concern are not even present…There are a huge range of options available and so if you are concerned about potentially dangerous chemicals, look for versions without oxybenzone and octocrylene.”

Concerns over titanium-dioxide, a common ingredient in sunscreens, have escalated recently due to its association with lung tumour development in animal studies, though research is still underway.

Despite the worries, the UK’s Food and Drug Administration has approved its use, with one study also finding that its nanoparticles don’t penetrate beyond the skin’s first layer and are not carcinogenic.

Echoing government assurances, pharmacist and ‘skinfluencer’ Angela Mavalla stated: “Mineral sunscreens that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are considered safe and effective. The primary function of sunscreen is to protect the skin from harmful UV radiation, which is a well-documented cause of skin cancer.

“Regular use of sunscreen has been shown to reduce the risk of developing skin cancers, including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. The potential risks of sunscreen ingredients are minimal compared to the proven benefits of UV protection.”

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) indicates how much protection a sunscreen offers against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, known for causing sunburn. Sunscreen bottles display SPF values ranging from two to 50+, with higher numbers providing greater protection.

The NHS recommends using a sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 30 to protect against dangerous UVB rays and at least a 4-star UVA protection. It stresses there is no ‘healthy way’ to get a tan and encourages Brits to wear sun cream even when it’s cloudy to protect against skin cancer.

In an interview with The Mirror, Angela underscored the necessity of wearing hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing to guard against the sun’s damaging effects. She also stressed the importance of verifying health information on social media: “Social media can be a useful platform for disseminating health information, but it is crucial to ensure that the sources are credible and the information is evidence-based.

Angela continued, warning of the dangers of misinformation online: “Misinformation can spread rapidly, so it is important for healthcare professionals and knowledgeable content creators to provide accurate, science-backed content. I always encourage my followers to verify information with trusted healthcare sources and consult with professionals directly for personalised advice.”

Instagram and TikTok were both approached for comment. While TikTok encourages open conversations, it prohibits misinformation and detects this through technology, fact-checkers, and reporting tools.

Instagram is currently investigating the nature of this content and is consulting with leading health organisations to do so.

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