Skin Cancer Free With Each Pair of Lululemon Leggings

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It's hard to find a great pair of leggings. It's also hard to find the perfect tote bag. Thankfully, one trip to Lululemon takes care of both of those. 

Unfortunately, it's not hard to find bad medical or health advice. Lululemon jumped on that bandwagon with the inclusion of a phrase about the sun and sunscreen on the side of their (otherwise perfect) tote bags. 

If you are not familiar with Lululemon's tote bags, you don't have to look far to see one. They are bright red and have phrases written on all sides. Most of the messages are inspirational or thought provoking such as 

  • "this is not your practice life. this is all there is" 
  • "friends are more important than money" 
  • "do one thing a day that scares you" 

However, one conroversial saying on the side of the tote bag reads:

  • "Sunscreen absorbed into the skin might be worse for you than sunshine. Get the right amount of sunshine." 

A photo of the tote bag was posted on Reddit earlier this month, sparking the controversy. (1)

This irked me for two reasons: 

1) A clothing company is getting into the world of health advice. Instead of a move that seems Gwyneth Paltrow-esqe, why not accept what you do well and leave the rest to the experts? Lululemon makes fantastic, high-end exercise gear. Yoga pants that make you look great while doing your chaturanga and jackets that manage to make the least athletic people look sporty. Why not keep the advice on the bags to friendships and money and leave the advice on sun exposure to the experts? There are people in this world who know what the "right amount of sunshine" is, and they are not Lululemon marketing people. They are called dermatologists. 

2) The advice is simply wrong - worse, it's the kind of messaging that makes dermatologists lose sleep at night. None of their statement is backed by scientific evidence and is instead dangerous. Science says that sunscreen is absolutely safe. If there was still any doubt about using sunscreen after us debunking such claims for decades, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) also released a statement earlier this year, to clarify the message. They state, 

“The American Academy of Dermatology wants to emphasize that sunscreen remains a safe, effective form of sun protection. As one component of a daily sun-protection strategy, sunscreen is an important tool in the fight against skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer." 

Spreading the myth that sunscreen is harmful is not only misinformed, it's dangerous. 

If you are worried about vitamin D, it takes only about 15 minutes of sun exposure to get the full daily amount of vitamin D. That's not much more than a trip to check out the mail and pull the trash cans in off the road. Too much sun exposure causes skin cancer and the numbers surrounding that are very scary. 

There are more skin cancers diagnosed each year than those of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined. In fact, one of five Americans will develop skin cancer. Although melanoma accounts for only about one percent of skin cancer cases, it accounts for the large majority of the deaths. An estimated 87,110 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed this year with 9,730 people dying of it - that's about one person per hour. 

So, Lululemon (and other companies that encroach on non-scientific lifestyle advice), please stay out of the health and medical fields. We all love your yoga pants - they make us feel great. But, you have to be more responsible in your messaging. Stick to "dance, sing, floss and travel" or someone might actually pay attention to the sides of your bags and stop using sunscreen - and you do not want to add "causing melanoma deaths" to your brand.


(1) It is worth noting that it is unknown when the bag posted on Reddit was made and handed out. In particular because this same controversy plagued Lululemon in the summer of 2014 and was addressed by the company at that time. Although the Reddit posting was recent, it is possible that the bag was not. Attempts to contact Lululemon's communications team to clarify the situation have been unsuccessful.