Pinterest Perfect Isn’t the Whole Story When It Comes to Safety

Pinterest Perfect Isn’t the Whole Story When It Comes to Safety 150 150 Abbie Roth

Imagine the scene: It’s late at night. You’re planning a party for your friend/spouse/child. Your phone is in your hand.

What are you doing?

You’re probably looking for inspiration on Pinterest or other social media sites. And while they might be the perfect places to find ideas for decorations or a new cupcake recipe, would you trust them to make a product designed to keep your family safe?

We all know that the internet is a wonderful, terrible place. And as the DIY culture continues to grow, researchers are looking at how information found online, specifically on social media, can affect the health and safety of consumers.

In a recently published study, researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Brooks College of Health at University of North Florida examined the safety of homemade sunscreens on Pinterest.

“We were specifically interested in Pinterest because a large number of users are parents,” says Lara McKenzie, PhD, co-author of the study and principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Prevention. “We understand the desire to provide safe products for children, and it’s easy to think that a DIY product with fewer ingredients would be a great option. However, with kids, the risks associated with bad sunburns, including risk of future cancer, are much more concerning.”

The study, published in Health Communication, found that nearly all (95%) pins, or bookmarks, for homemade sunscreen positively portrayed the effectiveness of homemade sunscreens and most (68%) recommended recipes for homemade sunscreens that offered insufficient UV radiation protection. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) claims were made in a third of pins with a range of SPF 2 to SPF 50. Researchers say this is concerning because the ingredients recommended in homemade sunscreen pins offer minimal scientifically proven broad-spectrum protection from UV radiation yet are widely shared and promoted as safe alternatives to commercial sunscreens on Pinterest. The average number of saves for a pin was 808, with one pin being saved more than 21,700 times.

“Homemade sunscreen products are risky because they are not regulated or tested for efficacy like commercial sunscreens. When you make it yourself, you don’t know if it’s safe or effective,” says Dr. McKenzie. “With rising skin cancer rates, the use of effective broadband sunscreen is critical to protect the skin from UV radiation and reduce incidence of skin cancer.”

Beyond sunscreen, Dr. McKenzie and her colleagues continue to study the safety of DIY products. “When it comes to products designed to keep your family safe, we need to encourage families to use only items that meet federal safety regulations,” she says. “From cribs, car seats and bike helmets, and yes, even personal care products like sunscreen, we need to hold the products our children use to a high evidence-based standard.”

For advice to parents from Dr. McKenzie about choosing a safe and effective sunscreen, visit our 700 Children’s blog.


About the author

Abbie Roth, MWC, is a passionate communicator of science. As the managing editor for science communication at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, she shares stories about innovative research and discovery with audiences ranging from parents to preeminent researchers and leaders. Before coming to Nationwide Children’s, Abbie used her communication skills to engage audiences with a wide variety of science topics. As a subject-matter expert, she developed content for science education materials for McGraw-Hill Education, bringing science concepts to life for middle and high school aged students. She also provided technical editing for manuscripts spanning the American Chemical Society journal portfolio, in addition to serving as production lead for ACS Synthetic Biology. Abbie earned her BS in Life Sciences at Otterbein University while working at the Tan & Cardinal newspaper and minoring in Public Relations. She is a Medical Writer Certified®, credentialed by the American Medical Writers Association.