The proliferation of potentially harmful information regarding homemade sunscreens via social media, specifically Pinterest, is following a similar trend as the antivaccination movement, according to a study published in Health Communication.
“It’s like the Wild West out there. The internet and social media can be great sources of information, but the content is mostly unregulated and people are left confused on what to believe,” Julie Merten, PhD, MCHES, associate professor of public health at the University of North Florida, told Healio Dermatology.
Pinterest has more than 175 million active users, but there is little research into how these users appear to be looking for health information using the social media platform. Additionally, the study reported that 87% of users have made purchases as the result of a pin, making the platform a significant consumer influencer, especially regarding the use of homemade sunscreens over natural commercially available sunscreens.
“While natural ingredients such as coconut oil, olive, carrot juices and citrus oils have some natural UVB blocking properties, used alone they provide insufficient overall UV protection,” the researchers wrote. “In vitro testing of SPF levels of UVB blocking ability of natural ingredients showed SPF values including grapefruit, carrot, lavender, coconut, olive and shea butter, yet these ingredients have gained traction as viable sunscreens on the internet. In addition to protecting against sunburn, photodamage and skin cancer, an effective sunscreen must be photostable, water resistant and able to tolerate sustained heat, and the natural ingredients do not meet that criteria.”
Using the keywords “homemade sunscreen” and “natural sunscreen” from Dec. 17 to 22, 2017, researchers sampled 189 pins on Pinterest. They analyzed these posts to study: how are homemade sunscreens images visually depicted on Pinterest including stance, target audience, and image contents; what sun protection claims are made; how do Pinterest users engage with homemade sunscreen pins?
Researchers characterized pins using a codebook that was developed, tested and used for this study using code categories from previous health-related Pinterest studies, according to the report.
“Using the methodology from previous studies, engagement was measured by the number of times a pin had been saved (formerly referred to as repins) by other users, number of comments, and Health Belief Model constructs,” the researchers wrote.
Other categorizations included pin appearance, specific nonmineral-based sunscreen ingredients, measurements for each ingredient, SPF claim and the inclusion of zinc oxide and beeswax.
Researchers found that 67.2% of pins were formatted with both images and text, included images primarily of the ingredients and portrayed homemade sunscreens in a positive light.
Only 2.8% of pins included links to medically related sites and 78% features links to recipes for homemade sunscreen.
Coconut oil and essential oils were the most frequently mentioned ingredients, with lavender and raspberry being the most often listed oils.
Only 33.3% of the pins had mentioned an SPF between 2 and 50, according to the study.
The researchers determined that the use of social media to spread potentially harmful misinformation regarding these homemade sunscreens could provide public health researchers a platform to intervene and counter information in these pins. They concluded that sunscreen education pins and public health pins could be used to address the shortcomings of homemade sunscreens as well as the dangers of sunburn and the risk for skin cancer.
“A great salt scrub or hair mask recipe from Pinterest might turn out OK, but taking a risk on a homemade sunscreen could result in a painful sunburn — or worse, increase your risk for skin cancer,” Merten said. “This offers dermatologists and health care providers a wonderful opportunity to have a conversation with their patients about commercially available sunscreens.” – by Scott Buzby
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.