TikTok sunscreen conspiracies have boomed - here's how to educate your teens about misinformation

The worrying trend has amassed millions of views, leading experts to share their tips on speaking with teens about misinformation online

Teenager putting on suncream
(Image credit: Getty Images)

An alarming new TikTok trend is urging people to ditch suncream this summer, spreading dangerous misinformation about SPF - and experts are urging parents to educate their teens on sun protection so they don't fall for the conspiracies. 

There are so many good things about social media, from it giving a platform to a parents who can share their relatable parenting experiences and theories, like the brilliant way one mum described juggling the 'shiftwork' of motherhood, to the inspiration we can get from it through viral trends, however strange, that can give us baby name inspo

But, for all the good, there is also a whole lot of bad. We know about cyberbullying and the fact that research into the online harassment of girls has proved that TikTok isn't really safe for kids and teens. But as well as the direct harm caused through social media, there's also elements like conspiracy theories, misinformation, and dangerous trends that impact the safety of kids both online and off. 

One such conspiracy theory that's taking off on TikTok currently is particularly worrying. With a whopping 12 million views, #NoSunscreen is pushing out dangerous misinformation about the 'dangers' of using sunscreen and prompting young people to stop wearing it as, as one TikToker said disregarding all the science to the contrary, "There is no proof the sun causes cancer." 

The information is particularly worrying as not only has science shown that sun exposure does cause cancer if you're not using SPF to protect yourself against it, but getting sun burnt as little as just five times in your life, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation, doubles your risk of skin cancer. 

It's not clear where this online trend has come from or why certain people on the app believe that sunscreen is bad for you. But one thing is clear. This misinformation could have a devastating impact on teens who may fall for the messaging. 

Rachael Robertson, the founder of Bedew Skin and a former clinical research analyst specialising in wound care, told GoodTo.com, "Despite what you may see on TikTok, sunscreen is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it is essential for long term skin health. 

"Regulated by health authorities like the FDA and the European Commission, sunscreen undergoes rigorous safety and efficacy testing as it’s considered a drug. Common ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and avobenzone are extensively studied and deemed safe. The ingredient you may see demonised is oxybenzone, however the studies we are seeing presented on TikTok are animal based studies with higher exposure and are extremely misleading and causing unnecessary fear - the research on humans at the concentration in sunscreens are deemed safe."

Ditching SPF is especially harmful for teens who are using other products to treat acne and breakouts, as these increase the skin’s photosensitivity, Robertson adds. 

As well as the facts highlighted by the expert, including that sunscreen plays a crucial role in preventing skin cancer and helps to prevent premature skin ageing by protecting against harmful UV radiation, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation, even wearing an SPF as low as SPF15 every day can lower your melanoma risk by 50%. 

But it doesn't matter that science shows this if a teenager has already come across something telling them otherwise, so what can parents do to help educate them without starting arguments? 

Rychel Johnson, a mental health expert, licensed clinical professional counsellor, and a senior contributor at Our Public Records, knows that speaking to teenagers about this conspiracy may be hard for parents, especially if their kids believe in it strongly, but she says it's important to at least try. Sharing her tips for educating teenagers about sun protection, she told us here at GoodTo.com, "The last thing you want to do is lecture teens or make them feel talked down to. It's better to have an open discussion and see what questions they may have. They're spending a lot of time online these days, so it makes sense they'd come across different opinions so first ask what specifics they've heard or seen that have led to their current concerns.

"Listen closely without judgment to understand where they're coming from. Once you get the full picture, don't dismiss their feelings - that'll just damage trust. Validate that seeking out information is smart, but explain how easily misinformation can spread."

She recommends to then share your own information, like that gathered from Robertson. She says, "You can gently correct any misconceptions with facts from reliable sources. Don't just preach or pontificate - make it a back-and-forth discussion. Ask them what they know about UV exposure and skin cancer risks, and fill in any knowledge gaps.

"Lastly, make sun protection a bonding experience! Go sunscreen shopping together and have them pick trendy brands that fit their vibe.. any positive reinforcement and quality time can go a long way!"

As the weather gets warmer, it's time to break out the best sun creams for you and your family, that we've tried and tested. We've also tried out the best sunscreen for your face and employed our little testers to give the best sunscreen for kids a try too. But it's not just the sunscreen that will help stop burning, your application is just as important as ‘slapdash’ sun cream application means we’re getting less than half the coverage we need. 

News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.