Don’t Get Burned by Misleading Sunscreen Claims

Lisa Powers
EVP, Public Affairs & Communications
Personal Care Products Council

As a communicator, being informed is a top priority – in all aspects of my life. When considering a new product to purchase, for instance, I look to science and research to provide objective information and help me make a data-driven choice… and I’m not alone. According to a recent poll by NORC, public confidence in the scientific community has remained largely stable since the 1970s, which is why I find it so confusing that the credibility and reliability of science is suddenly up for debate.

I am not a scientist, but I’ve worked with many over the years and am consistently impressed by the rigor of their approach and work. Rather than relying on gut instinct or emotions like many of us do, scientists carefully examine and consider established data to guide their work and recommendations. They go where the facts lead them, even if the facts disrupt their journey. (The scientific method provides an organized way in to answer a question, test a hypothesis, or solve a problem.)

We could all use a little more objectivity – a little less assumption – in our lives. What is most concerning recently is the willful disregard for (and, in some cases, blatant misrepresentation of) science when it comes to the safety and benefits of sunscreens.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than five million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year—more than all other types of cancer combined. One in five will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one person dies from melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – every hour, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Medical and scientific experts around the world agree sunscreen is a critical part of an overall sun safety regimen, but you wouldn’t know it by consuming today’s news.

You may, instead, be led to believe that sunscreen is harmful to your health or to the environment, or worse yet, that using it should be a last resort. These reports irresponsibly misrepresent the well-established scientific evidence regarding the safety and effectiveness of sunscreen. What’s even more alarming? Some of these statements misrepresent the position of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates sunscreens and has the authority to remove them from the market, were they to have any safety concerns.

When false and misleading statements are picked up by the media, it risks confusing – even potentially harming – consumers. Put another way, while unsubstantiated claims might make for catchy headlines, they can undermine confidence in the products that protect us.

Fact: Sunscreens on the market today are backed by decades of safe use to help adults and children guard against the dangers of sun exposure. The FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Surgeon General, AAD, Skin Cancer Foundation, and health professionals worldwide consistently advocate for the use of broad-spectrum sunscreens as part of a safe-sun regimen. These products play a critical role in the fight against skin cancer and premature skin aging.

With summer in full swing, as my loved ones and I begin to spend more time outdoors, we won’t be ignoring decades of science and research in favor of sensationalized news stories. I will grab my hat, long sleeve shirt, and favorite bottle of sunscreen… confident I am following the best scientific and medical advice available to protect us from the harmful effects of the sun.