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The Spread of Sunblock Skepticism

Like most propaganda campaigns, sunscreen denial has elements of the truth embedded in the lies. In this case, it began in earnest February 2019. The FDA formulated a set of new regulations involving sunscreen, as part of a regular review of products considered generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE). The review was prompted by evidence of elevated levels of common chemicals in the bloodstreams of test subjects that regularly used large amounts of sunscreen.

Key evidence playing into the propaganda: in 2016, scientists released the results of a study citing the impact that high concentrations of some of the chemicals in sunblock accelerated the bleaching effect on coral reefs. This establishes that there’s something possibly wrong with sunscreen–like everything else good for you–and probably prompted some jokes on the morning radio and TV shows. A February 5, 2019 article from a distinguished marine biologist in the Australian journal The Conversation.com disputes the results of prior studies. He calls for more studies given the inherent danger of telling people something is wrong with their sunscreen.

Key evidence against the propaganda: the FDA study participants applied the maximum recommended amount of sunscreen (spray, lotion, etc.) to at least 75 percent of their bodies four times a day for four days straight. Elevated levels of avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule appeared after just one day. The other most common adverse reaction was the development of a rash.

This seems excessive, even for a Black man. I don’t know about you, but I have come to know a lot of white people over the years. First, I’ve never seen them apply rash-level amounts of sunscreen ever.  I’ve never heard of sunscreen rash. Correlation is not causation, but between the white teens, adults, kids, parents, friends, girlfriends, co-workers and people I’ve overheard talking at the beach (or on the street), I’ve never heard anyone complain about sunscreen rash. Or say they “pack” on the sunscreen four times a day.

Here’s how sunblock denial started and spread:

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