Two main sunscreen ingredients—oxybenzone and retinyl palmate—are frequent targets of claims of carcinogenicity or the formation of cancer. More and more often, our clients and patients ask us if sunscreen can cause cancer. The answer is a definitive NO, but recent years have seen an increase in claims that sunscreen causes cancer. Where do these claims come from, and why are they proliferating?

Part of the problem stems from access to unlimited information—and misinformation—on the internet. Thirty years ago, misinformation could only spread through printed materials and in-person interactions. Now, with the click of a mouse and a social media platform, misinformation can reach millions of people in a matter of hours.

Pseudoscience websites are among the worst offenders for spreading incorrect information. Some sites claiming to be all natural news or sites ran by daytime television “doctors” regularly advocate for “natural” living and decry the use of any human-made products. According to these websites, vaccines, sunscreens, chemotherapy, and other medications are all toxic and should be avoided.

Pseudoscience websites usually use selective portions of information and spread vague details undermining decades of established research. For instance, a 2001 study on the oxybenzone’s effect on lab rats that ate significant concentrations of the chemical found that it did increase uterine size: a sign of endocrine disruption. However, a 2011 follow-up study showed that humans would need to slather oxybenzone over their entire bodies for 35 to 70 years to approach this level of exposure. Also, humans do not eat oxybenzone. And yet many pseudoscience articles and blogs cite the 2001 oxybenzone study to assert claims like: “the body has an easier time processing sunburn than it does dealing with the damaging effects of sunscreen.

The science is clear; the sun causes most skin cancers.  It is estimated that up to 90% of skin cancers are associated with UV light exposure from the sun. Wearing sunscreen has been shown over and over to prevent skin cancer and even improve the cosmetic appearance of skin. Ingredients like oxybenzone help prevent skin cancer by blocking the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. If you are concerned about these ingredients, however, look for sunscreens with inorganic mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. If you have further questions about the safety of sunscreens or the best sunscreen for your skin, visit The Med Spa to find the product that’s best for you.