I bought an SPF-30 sunscreen (which is what derms recommend for daily use) and started applying it every morning—and I’m not the only one who’s been (quite literally) influenced to change their behavior. On Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, the sunscreen chat is endless, and it’s created a positive kind of peer pressure that’s finally convinced people to get on board with wearing it every day.
Sunscreen is trending
There was a time, not long ago, when we were all rushing to tanning beds and saving the SPF for when we were on a tropical vacation—despite dermatologists telling us to do better. The first notable cultural shift in sun protection attitudes came in 1981 when Cancer Council, an Australian non-profit, launched its Slip, Slop, Slap campaign, says board-certified dermatologist Aegean Chan, MD, who owns a practice in Santa Barbara, California.
This anti-skin cancer initiative encouraged people to “slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat” when outdoors. Dr. Chan caveats that this was still limiting sunscreen application to the “vacation mode” pretext, meaning it wasn’t emphasized as a daily practice. In the 40 years since, though, she’s noticed that people have begun to consider the importance of daily SPF usage thanks to the content surrounding it.
Dermatologists agree that even though we’ve long been aware that we should be wearing sunscreen—which is the first line of defense against melanoma skin cancers and signs of visible skin aging, like wrinkles and dark spots—social media has influenced us to actually do it. “We’ve known for decades that protecting your skin from the sun prevents skin cancer and other damage to the skin,” says Dr. Chan. “But with social media, you can visually show people, ‘Hey, if you’re not wearing your sunscreen every day, that cumulative sun damage will make your skin look like this.”
Dermatologists agree that social media has led to increased sunscreen peer pressure.
Influenced by SPF
According to the pros, much of this change in perception comes down to education. “Social media has helped to normalize sunscreen use and has provided so much education surrounding the topic,” says Lindsey Zubritzky, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Pennsylvania with more than 673k followers on TikTok. “Short video platforms like TikTok and Instagram allow dermatologists to effectively and quickly educate on sunscreen while making the topic accessible to all and easy to digest.”
On TikTok, the hashtag “sunscreen” has 3.2 billion views as of this writing (and another 3.1 million posts on Instagram). Its more aggressive sibling, aka #WearSunscreen, has 117.4 million views on TikTok and 125k posts on Instagram. One user recently shared a stitched TikTok that said “wear sunscreen or go to jail,” which garnered more than 40,000 likes and 1,600 comments. One in all caps says, “Wear sunscreen every day. Everyone. RN.” Other videos show what happens when you do wear sunscreen daily—like this one, captioned, “Starts wearing sunscreen at age 14; has a baby face at age 38.” Someone commented, “I’m going to put my face in a bowl of sunscreen.”
“This education [on social media] is changing behaviors, and peer pressure is encouraging people to wear sunscreen regularly,” says Muneeb Shah, DO, who regularly shares SPF content with his 16.6 million TikTok followers. He was diagnosed with skin cancer when he was 21 years old, and has been pushing the importance of daily sunscreen usage online since he first started creating content in 2019. He likens the effect that this type of content has had on his followers to the peer pressure that smokers received to cease their habit.
And the numbers back up his claims: More people are wearing sunscreen now as a daily habit (or are at least considering it), as evidenced by several recent studies. A 2021 analysis published by the Cureus Journal of Medical Science examined trends in sunscreen use among U.S. middle and high school students from 2007 to 2019, finding that sunscreen use in adolescents increased by 4 percent in those 12 years. Moreover, a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that “social media interventions have shown promise in skin cancer prevention” largely by increasing awareness of sun damage as well as increasing the demand for sunscreen.
We’ve reached peak sunscreen
The shift in the understanding of the importance of daily SPF has created an uptick in demand for better, more cosmetically-elegant formulas that people will actually want to wear every day—and the industry has responded accordingly.
“Social media conversations have fueled this explosion of choices and how many sunscreens are available to consumers,” says Dr. Chan. “Supergoop! was one of the first companies that really put an emphasis on cosmetically elegant, daily-wear sunscreens. And with the way the markets are going, the bigger companies take notice and expand their offerings,” which, of course, isn’t a bad thing.
It’s undeniable: the pressure to wear sunscreen has had some effect on the formulations available.
Supergoop! may have led the charge with the launch of its everyday SPF products in 2007, but there’s been an explosion in this segment of the industry over the course of the past few years. Although the sunscreen market was already raking in a whopping $13 billion in 2019, it’s now predicted to hit $14.7 billion dollars by 2028. We’ve seen improved mineral formulas that don’t leave chalky casts, a new category of glow-inducing products that feel more like makeup than sunscreen, and smarter SPFs that go above and beyond to fight past and future signs of skin damage. All of these innovations make integrating sunscreen into your daily routine easier than ever before.
What’s more, beauty brands across the board have seized the opportunity to get in on the SPF game. In 2017, Garnier Fructis, a brand that’s best known for its hair care, launched a 3-in-1 product that blends a serum, moisturizer, and SPF. Skin-care brands not traditionally associated with sun care, like Summer Fridays, Nécessaire, and Zitsticka have also crept into the sunscreen party—differentiating their products by including good-for-skin ingredients in their formulas.
In June, Summer Fridays launched Shade Drops, a hydrating sunscreen with plant-derived squalane and antioxidants. More recently, Nécessaire—which typically makes body washes and creams—put out its hyaluronic-acid-and-niacinamide infused brightening sunscreen, and Zitsticka, a brand known for its acne patches, released its own breakout-fighting SPF. These are just a few examples, but take a peak at the shelves of Sephora or Ulta, and you’re guaranteed to see a whole lot more.
“I love how much variety there is in sunscreens nowadays,” Dr. Zubritzky says. “Sunscreens used to get a bad rap for being chalky, white, sticky, or greasy, which can alienate so many people, particularly people of color.” Now though? “There is quite literally a sunscreen for any skin type, tone, texture, or age,” adds Dr. Zubritzky.
If you ask me, that’s no accident—so let’s keep these conversations going.
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