Myth of the Week on TikTok: Natural SPF Supplements

How cool would it be if we could prevent sunburn and skin cancer without sunscreen—just by eating certain natural foods? It’s a really attractive idea, which explains why it’s all over TikTok. Too bad it doesn’t actually work.The food-as-sunscreen TikToks don’t always come out and say it, but they’re trading on the established myth of sunscreen being somehow bad for us. (You don’t want to know how many “akshully, sunscreen causes cancer” statements I had to scroll through while researching this article. Myth of the Week on TikTok: Natural SPF Supplements

As I’ve written before, this is not some kind of sensible risk management messaging. It’s complete nonsense. The harms of UV exposure are concrete and well-documented. The harms of sunscreen are unproven, mostly guesswork, and the occasional legitimate concern is on the level of “hey, it would be helpful to have more research to know if some types of sunscreen are safer than others.” This stuff is absolutely not on the level of “avoid sunscreen because it’s bad for you.”

TikTok’s Natural SPF Claims: Too Good to Be True?

The TikToks about natural sun protection give a laundry list of foods, saying vaguely that they protect from sun damage. Sometimes they’ll recommend a specific supplement. But they never go into detail about the things that are important to know when recommending a preventative treatment, like:

  1. What dosage is needed to get the intended results?
  2. Has this actually been tested in humans?
  3.  How much protection does the food or supplement give you, and how was that measured?
  4.  Does the protection start working immediately, and if not, how long does it take?
  5.  Does the effectiveness vary from person to person?
  6.  Does the protective ingredient break down over time, and is there a way to refresh its protection (equivalent to reapplying sunscreen)?
  7.  What are the downsides to the food or supplement when used in the recommended dosage?

For actual, FDA-approved sunscreens, there are answers to all of these questions. For the foods recommended on TikTok, there are not. Instead of this fully fleshed-out information, we just get statements like “Eat watermelons, tomatoes, walnuts, carrots…”

The Reality of Sunscreen Safety

You don’t have to take it from me. The American Academy of Dermatology has a page on sunscreen safety in which they summarize the evidence like so: “Scientific studies support the benefits of wearing sunscreen when you will be outside.”

The harms of UV exposure are well-documented and concrete. UV rays are a leading cause of skin cancer and premature aging. Sunscreen, on the other hand, is a proven method to protect against these harmful effects. The concerns raised about sunscreen are mostly speculative, lacking solid scientific backing. Even when legitimate concerns arise, they typically call for more research to determine if certain types of sunscreen might be safer than others, rather than outright claims of danger.

The Allure and Danger of Viral Health Myths

The appeal of natural SPF supplements is easy to understand. It’s a quick, seemingly healthy alternative to slathering on sunscreen. However, relying on these myths can lead to serious health consequences. When people forego proven methods of sun protection, they expose themselves to higher risks of sunburn, skin damage, and ultimately skin cancer.

Conclusion: Stick to Science-Backed Sunscreen

While the idea of natural SPF supplements is enticing, it’s crucial to rely on science-backed methods for sun protection. Sunscreens are rigorously tested and proven effective. The myths circulating on platforms like TikTok can lead to misinformation and increased health risks. Stay informed and protect your skin with methods that are proven to work.

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