FACT CHECK: No, Sunscreen Does Not Cause Skin Cancer
A post shared on Facebook claims chemicals in sunscreen products cause cancer while the sun does not.
Sunscreen protects against skin cancer while excessive sun exposure can cause skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society and dermatologists.
The Facebook post, which has garnered over 60 shares, claims “With summer around the corner, this is your reminder that the [sun] does not cause cancer. Chemicals in sunscreen baking into your skin does.”
This claim is not scientifically proven. The sun produces ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are “a form of electromagnetic radiation” that can cause skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The society notes the danger the sun poses depends on a number of factors and that only a small percentage of the sun’s rays are UV rays.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association states on its website that sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect against the sun’s rays and notes that everyone who is exposed to the sun for any period of time should apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. The website also states that “Claims that sunscreen ingredients are a hazard to human health have not been proven.”
Experts agreed. “This claim (that ‘sunscreens cause cancer’) is absolutely incorrect,” said Dr. Henry Lim, board member of the International League of Dermatological Societies, in an email to Check Your Fact. Lim explained that although active ingredients of sunscreen can be absorbed into the bloodstream, no association between sunscreen and cancer has ever been reported. (RELATED: Did Britney Spears Announce She Has Cancer?)
Dr. Ivy Lee, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles, concurred with Lim’s statements. “There is extensive scientific evidence that it is ultraviolet radiation from the sun that causes DNA damage in skin cells,” said Lee in an email to Check Your Fact. “The cumulative DNA damage leads to skin cancer. Scientific evidence also supports sunscreen as an effective way to protect one’s skin from the sun and decrease risk of skin cancer and premature aging from ultraviolet radiation.”
Sunscreens have, on occasion, been subject to recalls for harmful chemicals found within them. In September 2021, the sunscreen company Coppertone issued a recall of multiple aerosol sunscreen sprays due to the presence of the carcinogen benzene, according to an FDA announcement.
“Daily exposure to benzene at the levels detected in these affected Coppertone aerosol sunscreen spray products would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences based on generally accepted exposure modeling by numerous regulatory agencies,” the announcement stated.
A similar recall was announced in July 2021 for five Johnson & Johnson aerosol sunscreen products, according to Harvard Health Publishing.