Oh, TikTok

Is There Any Truth To The Viral TikTok "No Sunscreen" Trend?

Are the chemicals in sunscreen — not the sun — what's causing skin cancer? Hear what a derm has to say.

Originally Published: 
A woman applies sunscreen on a girl's nose at a sunny beach, both wearing summer clothes and hats.
Urbazon/Getty Images

Ah, TikTok. For all the incredible knowledge coming across your FYP, you're bound to find some wild claims that seem too sus to be true. One such troubling trend? The "no sunscreen" movement, which encourages people to not only ditch SPF but also claims that sunscreen causes cancer.

Record scratch. Hold up. Is there any truth to this? And where did these claims come from, anyway? A dermatologist is here to give you the scoop on sunscreen, sharing whether or not you are helping or harming your skin's health by using it.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it's worth reiterating that you do need to wear sunscreen daily. Yes, even if it's cloudy, cold, windy, or you spend much of your day indoors. If you sit by a window or in the car, you are exposed to the sun, and it's important to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays. That should include a broad-spectrum sunscreen on any areas not covered by your clothes.

The Talk on TikTok

A quick refresher: The sun emits two types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and this radiation causes genetic mutations and damage to DNA. The damage is what causes painful sunburns and can lead to skin cancer. You're exposed to these UV rays every time you step outside, even when it's cold or cloudy, and the thickest of glass windows won't protect you from it. That's why we're on our sunscreen soapbox — skin cancer simply isn't something to f*ck with, friends.

OK, now that we cleared that part up, let's talk TikTok. Many viral videos on the app are making some wild claims. If you believe your FYP, the sun does not actually cause skin cancer and plenty of sunscreens lining store shelves are chock-full of toxic chemicals, so you should make your own sunscreen instead.

Before you laugh, just know this misinformation is running rampant, to the tune of more than 4 million views for #toxicsunscreen on TikTok alone.

And it’s going beyond mild curiosity — people are actually starting to believe this misinformation.

According to a new study from the Orlando Health Cancer Institute, a shocking 1 in 7 American adults under the age of 35 think daily sunscreen use is more harmful than direct exposure to the sun. Further, an online survey published by the American Academy of Dermatology in May 2024 revealed that 52% of Gen Z adults polled were unaware of one or more sunburn risks, with 37% admitting they only use sunscreen when nagged to do so by other people.

Cutting Through the Crap

Dr. Geeta Yadav, board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology, is here to spill the facts on sun protection.

"It's infuriating to see so many people spreading misinformation on sunscreen," she says. "I believe this blossomed with the advent of 'clean beauty.'" (BTW, clean beauty doesn't ~really~ mean anything; no guidelines or regulations cover it, and anyone can slap these marketing terms on their product, no matter what's in it.)

"Remember — chemicals are not inherently bad (water is a chemical!), and plants are not inherently better for you (cyanide, belladonna, and anthrax all come from nature!)," says Yadav. "It's great that people are taking a closer look at the ingredients in their products, but they are not doing their own research into the ingredients. Generally speaking, ingredients that may have potentially carcinogenic or toxic properties only do so at very, very high concentrations, far more so than you'd ever absorb into your skin from using beauty products in your entire life."

"Social media is a double-edged sword," she adds. "I appreciate that it allows so many people to have their voices heard, but there are too many individuals speaking to topics about which they are not experts and are completely uninformed. They may have good intentions, but they are not credible. If you're not sure who to talk to or trust, dermatologists with strong research backgrounds are a great place to start."

Time to Debunk Those Viral Claims

Just because the video you're watching features a fun personality, sleek editing, or claims that sound authoritative doesn't mean the person has any background or credentials in skincare. Taking a few moments to dive a little deeper into your source or the info they're sharing is never a bad idea, especially when it comes to your family's skin health.

So, are there any glimmers of truth behind these popular claims? That's a resounding no, per Yadav.

"Exposure to UV radiation — side note: wouldn't sunburns be taken more seriously if we referred to them as what they are, which is radiation poisoning? — damages skin cells and causes mutations," she says. "These mutations can cause cells to act erratically and transform into cancerous cells. This is clinically proven."

What about the claim that skin cancer rates have risen because of more widespread sunscreen use? "No, there's no truth to this. In fact, a study proves there is no association between sunscreen use and the formation of malignant melanoma."

Isn't some sun exposure good for you? Won't you end up deficient in vitamin D without it? "Some will say that constant sunscreen use will lead to a vitamin D deficiency, but the risks of skipping out on SPF far outweigh the benefits," notes Yadav. "Beyond skin aging, leaving your skin unprotected puts you at great risk for developing skin cancer, including one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, melanoma. You can boost your body's vitamin D levels by eating foods naturally rich in vitamin D, like fatty fish and egg yolks or fortified foods like cereal, milk, and yogurt." If you have a true deficiency, your doctor will let you know if a vitamin D supplement will help, but that doesn't mean a free pass to bake beneath the sun this summer.

As for that whole "DIY homemade sunscreen" thing, don't try it. "It's preposterous to even consider making your own sunscreen," insists Yadav. "Sunscreen is considered a drug by the FDA and goes through rigorous testing to ensure it provides accurate defense against UVA and UVB rays — it's impossible to guarantee that anything you'd make at home would be efficacious or safe."

And when it comes to TikTok's obsession with "toxic" cancer-causing chemicals in sunscreen, Yadav debunks this myth, too. "The ingredients shown as being toxic in these products are only shown to be so at high concentrations, which are not used in skincare formulas, especially considering that SPF is a drug and goes through years of clinical testing to be deemed effective before released to the public," she says. "If you want to avoid any potentially hazardous ingredients, look to mineral sunscreen formulas instead of chemical sunscreens. It's often chemical sunscreens that are labeled as dangerous or controversial, though that's really not the case. Mineral sunscreens do not absorb into the skin, but rather sit on top of the skin's surface to deflect the sun's rays."

The best sun protection is the one you'll actually stick to using, whether that's a lotion or a spray, a mineral- or a chemical-based formula, a drugstore favorite, or a luxe, pricey pick. Just make sure you apply and reapply liberally after you sweat, swim, or spend multiple hours outside, and your skin will thank you years down the line — no matter what they're saying on TikTok.

This article was originally published on