Social media — primarily TikTok — has its hallmark trends: choreographed dances, catchy tunes and do-it-yourself projects.

However, a more dangerous trend has emerged in recent years on social media: medical misinformation

Though medical misinformation has existed for centuries, social media apps like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have allowed for the spread of misinformation at unprecedented rates. 

The subsequent rise of influencers has only perpetuated this issue given that the success of an influencer is largely dependent on creating viral, engaging content.

As was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, spreading medical misinformation is often a surefire way to get attention online. 

Recently, one of the most prominent examples of medical misinformation run amok via social media is the claim that sunblock — not the lack thereof — causes cancer. 

Many different creators with varying levels of following have backed this debunked claim, telling their followers that they do not use sunscreen and that they should follow suit. 

Despite all of the scientific evidence proving otherwise, many users believe these claims at face value. 

The sheer fact that these videos have thousands of likes, comments and shares speaks to the susceptibility of users in the face of dubious clinical assertions by influencers. 

Take this video from @doll10beauty as they stitch a clip from reality star Kristin Cavallari and the holistic Dr. Ryan Monahan. 

The original video had gone viral for its baseless claims against sunscreen which these influencers expand on in a new clip that has 17,400 thousand likes and more than half a million views.  


HOT TAKE: you don’t need sunscreen EVERY TIME you step out into the sun 😳☀️ A little bit of Vitamin D is good for the skin! 🙌 When you do wear sunscreen, DO NOT use those with TOXIC benzenes- try mineral based! 💗 Drop any questions you have in the COMMENTS! ⬇️ #kristincavallarisunscreen #toxicsunscreen #vitamind #controversialopinion #hottake #sunscreen #nosunscreen #benzene

♬ THE GREAT SPF DEBATE – Doll 10 Beauty

Since the release of the videos many healthcare professionals and experts in the field have dueted the videos and debunked these claims, like Dr. Ellen Gendler, a New York dermatologist and content creator. 


Do I really care whether Kristin cavalleri wears sunscreen or not? Nope. Not one little bit. Do I CRINGE hearing her respond, “Ohhh” to a holistic practitioner saying that astanxanthin is “internal sunscreen?” Indeed I do! Why? Because they are both clueless, but the guy with the hair and the baseball cap actually gives health advice to people who might need real, genuine, intelligent, honest and accurate information! I know, I know, I’m a traditional western medicine doctor and people who take the advice of “holistic” practitioners don’t listen to physicians like me. I am done trying to convince them. But when these lemmings have real medical issues, hopefully they will know enough to look for health care professionals with actual medical knowledge and credentials who can help them. I realize that, by addressing these two in any way, I am giving them more attention on social media than they deserve, which could harm innocent viewers who listen to their platitudes about sun safety. For that I am sorry. Oh, and by the way, Ryan, get yourself a proper hat , not a cap, for the Malibu sunshine. #kristincavallari #sunscreen #holistichealing #holisticdoctor #holistichealth #sunscreenviral

♬ original sound – Dr. Ellen Gendler

However, the damage has often already been done – there is no guarantee that the duets will reach the entirety of the audience from the original viral video. 

This is by no means an isolated case, either. 

Over the past year, a variety of troubling medical trends have emerged on TikTok, including those that promote the consumption of Borax, mouth taping, Budget ozempic and bone smashing, among countless others.

Still, while some influencers have played a role in the ongoing spread of medical misinformation, many content creators have taken the proper steps to ensure their videos are factually accurate and only sponsor products they use and trust. 

As medical misinformation continues to fester, it becomes incumbent upon influencers to take action to counter claims that pose a harm to their audience and the brands they represent. 

Eric Dahan, founder of the influencer agency Mighty Joy, told MM+M that consumers should always approach online content with some scepticism and when in doubt do some research. 

He added that science is nuanced and is not “made to be interesting,” adding that just because a video appears on a user’s For You Page doesn’t make it wholly credible.

Still, Dahan acknowledged that the responsibility of combatting disinformation should not be solely a task taken on by users. 

When asked if the social media sites have both the capability and responsibility to combat medical misinformation, Dahan said they did but noted that such action would come at the cost of engagement.

This is where the trouble with the algorithm comes into play, as each site uses their own proprietary technology to tailor content to a single user. 

In order to combat the spread of misinformation, these companies would need to reveal their algorithms and regulate the content being fed to a user, which would be a stark challenge to the existing business model. 

Dahan said that he and most of his peers in the influencer marketing space believe that in order to offer the most effective protection to users, there needs to be meaningful regulations passed by the federal government regarding misinformation and how it is delivered to users.

Social media and its outsized societal impact has been a priority for the Biden administration, with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy this week calling for warning labels on social media sites to warn against the effects they have on children’s mental health.