Diving into the anti-sunscreen movement

The sun-worshipping, anti-sunscreen "wellness" movement is on the rise, fueled by TikTok and Instagram, of course. While such ideas aren't new, they are gaining new traction as wellness influencers and conspirituality grifters spread the message across social movement platforms. Glossy explains:

For years, a faction of wellness influencers has advocated that their followers avoid sunscreen altogether. In the past year, anti-sunscreen voices online have been intensified by a combination of concerns about product recall news and social media algorithms that reward sensationalist, emotion-driven content and have also boosted claims about topics such as vaccines. As a result, sunscreen brands and a new contingent of science-focused influencers are fighting back. 

Many of the anti-sunscreen and pro-sun folks on TikTok go well beyond quite rational concerns about product recalls and the potential harm of certain chemicals that are in some sunscreens. It makes sense to seek out safe and effective sunscreens, but some folks on TikTok are eschewing sunscreen altogether and touting the health benefits of sun exposure, saying that sunshine is "medicine," and asserting that it can cure pretty much anything that ails you. I've seen folks on TikTok saying that sunshine can improve your metabolism, immune system, bone density, insulin sensitivity, muscle mass, and mood. One wellness TikTok influencer even claimed that ninety percent of autoimmune conditions can be cured by diet and lifestyle—which includes getting "adequate sun" in your "light diet." Some anti-sunscreen social media influencers also spread conspiracy theories claiming that the "powers that be" invented the "lie" that "sunburns can cause cancer," because, as one said, "the people that sell the panic are the people who sell the cure—sunscreen." One wellness influencer said very emphatically, "The sun does NOT cause skin cancer," and encouraged her audience to spend more time in the sun, without sunscreen or any other kind of protection.

Some wellness influencers also move into anti-Semitic conspiracy theory territory, according to Sara Aniano, Disinformation Analyst at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. She cites one Instagram influencer who touts the sun as providing "light nutrition," and who follows "Germanic New Medicine," a pseudoscience alternative medicine that was invented by German physician Ryke Geerd Hamer, who was prosecuted in several European countries for illegally practicing medicine. Psiram describes Hamer's anti-Semitism: 

In two interviews in September 2007, Hamer stated that he fled from Spain to Norway to escape an arrest warrant from Germany. The warrant was issued on grounds of incitement of hatred (article 130 of German criminal law), because of Hamer's many public anti-Semitic statements in open letters and on web pages, accusing an alleged international Jewish conspiracy (in particular the New York B'nai B'rith) of having killed two billion people by hiding the truth about New Medicine, which Hamer claims can heal 98% of all cancer cases.

Sara Aniano, interviewed by Conspirituality Podcast, explains that Hamer also believed that "Jews created these conventional medical treatments, including chemotherapy, to kill or harm non-Jews," and sees these same conspiracies applied to sunscreen in current 4chan message boards, which contain statements like "Jews made sunscreen," "sunscreen is a Jewish PSYOP," and "sunscreen is a Jewish chemical cancer cocktail." 

I don't want to link to all of this misinformation and disinformation, but if must see for yourself, search #sunexposure (6.5 million views) on TikTok.

If you want to know more about this movement, Conspirituality Podcast just released Episode 153: The Anti-Sunscreen Movement (w/Sara Aniano & Michelle Wong), which provides a deep dive. Their website describes the episode:

Did you know that it's not the sun that causes cancer, but sunscreen? Or that sunscreen is actually a Big Pharma creation to keep you from receiving the sun's magical healing properties? How about the fact that sunscreen molecules can be found in your brain 10 years after application? And don't even get me started on the life-changing effects of exposing your asshole to direct sunshine. 

Ok, that's the last time asshole sunning will be mentioned. As for the rest of those equally-absurd claims, Derek talks to cosmetic chemist, Michelle Wong, aka Lab Muffin Beauty Science, to dispose of the gibberish and give me a serious 101 on sunscreen. Before that, he chats with disinformation analyst Sara Aniano about the connection between the anti-sunscreen movement and antisemitism—because yes, that's a thing, too.

And if anyone in your life is sending you TikTok videos about why you should ditch sunscreen and count on the sun to cure all that ails you, point them in the direction of Dr. Michelle Wong. Dr. Wong, who has a PhD in chemistry and is a cosmetic chemist, is using her public platform to combat these extremely bad anti-sunscreen pro-sun takes.  


#stitch I ran out of time to say more, so here's some extra points: 👉 As well as "some affinity" being useless in telling us the type of effect, it's also a huge range, plus the chemical needs to get to the receptor in a high enough concentration to have any chance of interacting with the receptor in the first place. 👉 I've talked about how toxicological assessments carefully consider how to translate the existing studies to human health effects in my previous content – check out my YT video and blog post on the EU sunscreen assessments for lots on that (thanks to @moskinlab for his help on that, his account is a good follow for toxicology info!) 👉 Note that the EU looked at sunscreens that were suspected endocrine disruptors – only 4 chemical sunscreens were listed for review, out of about 20 that are commonly used. Different chemical sunscreens have very different properties! 👉 Endocrine disruption sounds scary, but just like every other possible effect, remember that it still depends on dose. 👉 Yes, you can decide that for yourself the risk isn't "worth it" for the entire diverse family of chemical sunscreens, but you're probably unnecessarily restricting your choices. 👉 I had a realisation after I filmed this – he seems to think lipophilicity is like magnets and the fat sucks the sunscreen through skin?? 🤦🏻‍♀️ Just like with hyaluronic acid that I talked about a few vids ago, lipophilicity is also very short range, the sunscreen molecule has to essentially physically bump into the fat to get stuck there. Yes some things do get through skin very easily, but it's a teeny number of things 👉 Basically very few things in chemistry work like magnets except… magnets 🙃 Stop thinking about magnets! 👉 Whenever something fearmongers about pregnancy, children, reproductive health… that's a massive 🚩 to read critically. I've probably forgotten a bunch of points so they'll be in the comments section later 😅 #skincarescience #sunscreen #toxicsunscreen #sunscreenscience #chemistry #pharmacology #hormones #toxicology #endocrinedisruptors #cleanbeauty #fearmongering #factsnotfear

♬ original sound – Lab Muffin Beauty Science