Inside The Very Real Dangers Of TikTok’s Anti SPF Movement

"A lot of the information on TikTok about chemical filters is untrue"

Photo by Mikhail Nilov / Pexels

Picture the scene: you’re planning to head outside. It’s a nice day. You pack a tote bag, make sure your phone is charged, have a snack.

You pop your sunglasses on your head and grab your SPF. Then, you put it down and forego using it all… because TikTok told you so.

Sounds crazy, right? SPF has become a such staple of our skincare routines that sun protection is now second nature. Whether it’s scorching and the sun is splitting the stones, or incredibly grey and overcast (hello, summer 2024), we always use it – to be sun safe, and to look after our skin.

Enter TikTok, and the plethora of misinformation that exists on the app. These days, it’s not just conspiracy theories around flat earth and celebrity reincarnation (yes, that’s a thing) dominating the platform.

#NoSunscreen and #AntiSunscreen tags have been gaining popularity for a while now, amassing millions upon millions of views across the platform.

What’s more is that according to data as reported by Glam, searches for ‘does sunscreen cause cancer’ and ‘what causes cancer in sunscreen’ have risen by 160% and 70% respectively in May of this year.

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It’s no coincidence either, considering content creators with thousands of followers have been waxing lyrical about the so-called ‘dangers’ of ‘chemical heavy’ SPF, that they are somehow convinced actually causes cancer rather than helping protect against it.

Skin expert Michelle Ryan says that SPF can come in two forms – chemical and physical/mineral – which are used to maximise protection against UVA and UVB rays. She also says that the claims posted on TikTok have “no scientific backing.”

“Chemical SPFs are used to enhance the effect of the SPF and increase protection from a SPF 30 to an SPF 50,” explains Michelle. “The chemical filters used in SPF are highly regulated by the EU and in order to use chemical filters they have to be tested and used at a certain percentage to be safe.

“A lot of the information on TikTok about chemical filters is untrue, really misleading and very worrying. There’s no scientific backing to support their claims and in general it is just personal opinions.

“A lot of brands will use a hybrid of chemical and physical SPFs to protect from UVA, UVB, infrared and blue lights to maximise on protection. By blending the two together it also creates a nicer finish on the skin and is much easier to use under makeup.”

@dermdoctor Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen with @larocheposay #sunscreen #spf #dermdoctor #dermatologist #lrppartner ♬ original sound – DermDoctor | Dr. Shah

Michelle adds that despite the myths being peddled by some, nine out of 10 skin cancer diagnoses are due to UV exposure from the sun and sunbeds.

“Skin cancer is the no. 1 cancer diagnosed globally every year and it’s preventable by using SPF,” she says. “Skin cancer can happen at any age, and the majority of melanoma cases diagnosed are in women in their late 20s and early 30s.

“This is life threatening and again is easily prevented. There are so many proven clinical trials showing the reduced risk of developing skincare by using an SPF daily.”

According to the Irish Cancer Society, over 13,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year, and this number is expected to double by 2040 (As a first line of protection, they recommend staying out of the sun when it’s at its strongest, covering your skin with clothing, wearing a hat and sunglasses and using sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher). 

As it stands, skin cancer cases are on the rise, but this is largely among the older population who may not have been as SPF savvy as we are today, increased numbers of people tasking regular sun holidays, and an increased awareness around skin cancer symptoms.

Photo by Angela Roma / Pexels

As it turns out, #CleanBeauty is also a culprit amidst such SPF misinformation. What began as a trend concerned with ‘non-toxic’ beauty products has encouraged many users to spread myths concerning the ‘toxicity’ of SPF.

Even Laguna Beach star Kristin Cavallari has said that she skips sunscreen in her beauty routine as she believes it to be unnecessary – a comment that generated much criticism from medical professionals and skin experts alike.

Michelle says that there is no real definition for ‘clean beauty,’ and that really, she sees it as a marketing ploy. “It’s a trend and in my opinion, you don’t want your skincare to be trendy,” she says. “You need your skincare to be safe and effective on your skin concerns.

“When brands are EU compliant they have very strict testing and claims they can associate with the products being sold. EU regulations around skincare is one of the strictest I have seen globally in my career. Clean beauty is trending from clean eating and deems all chemicals as bad for us. Not all chemicals are bad. Water is a chemical and we need it to survive as humans.” 

So, the next time you’re doing your skincare routine, make sure to include your SPF. And the next time a TikToker tells you to skip sun protection, it might be time to hit the unfollow button.

You can find out more about skin cancer and its symptoms here.