Coconut Oil Is Not a Safe Alternative to Sunscreen! 5 Popular Consumer Product Myths Debunked

The bad consumer advice you get on the internet can be divisive, costly, and even unsafe.

Photo Credit: alphaspirit / Shutterstock

Nobody knows when the first piece of bad advice was published on the Internet, but over time questionable consumer information has certainly taken hold. Dubious products, like weight-loss pills and water-fueled cars have been the rage at times, luring people into wasting their money on them. But along with the more obvious scams comes fishy advice that may be from anyone from well-meaning friends with homespun solutions to zealots with agendas to push.

We scoured the Internet looking for the questionable advice that’s currently trending on blogs and message boards. And while we found hundreds of bad tips and inaccurate reports, these five seem to be the most often repeated and, unfortunately, believed. Here’s our comeback to these suspicious claims.

1. Muslims are trying to keep pork products out of Subway restaurants.The Internet is rife with chain mails and conspiracy websites which claim that Muslims are pressuring Subway restaurants to stop selling ham and bacon. The original sources of this conspiracy theory were Great Britain’s conservative Daily Mail newspaper, the Islamaphobic website Jihad Watch, and right-wing talk radio shows. Right now, this claim is again propagating on Facebook and Twitter feeds, and stirring up a lot of anger. 

While it’s not true that Muslims are demanding Subway drop pork products, it has been Subway’s corporate policy to allow its franchisees to make menu substitutions in areas where a large segment of consumers have religious dietary restrictions. For example, many Subway franchises in India do not sell meat products at all, while others don’t sell beef and pork. There are also kosher Subway franchises in the U.S. and elsewhere that don’t carry pork products and don’t serve cheese or other dairy products with meat. There are also hundreds of Subway shops outside the U.S. that cater to Muslim dietary restrictions, including only allowing meat from certified halal suppliers. To date, there are no halal Subway franchises in the U.S. and no evidence that any Muslim group has pressured the fast-food chain into removing pork products from its menu.

2. Coconut oil is a safer alternative to sunscreen.Coconut oil is the natural, healthy oildu jour, but some people take its benefits way too far – and listening to their advice can be downright dangerous. Alternative health websites and blogs that tout natural alternatives to common household products are now promoting pure, organic coconut oil as a safer alternative to sunscreen (some of which contain oxybenzone and retinyl palminate, which may pose some health risks). These sites maintain that coconut oil is a great way to get a healthy tan and Vitamin D from the sun without the risk of burning. 

But, as any dermatologist will tell you, no tan is a healthy tan; any prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays damages skin cells, even if you don’t burn. Moreover, coconut does not provide a notable Sun Protection Factor (SPF). So, exposing yourself to the sun after slathering yourself with it is really not much better than putting no skin protectant on at all.

This advice can be especially dangerous when it comes to infants, who are more susceptible to the sun’s rays. For example, while it’s true that the contents of sunscreen may be too harsh for infants, coconut oil is an unsafe alternative because they don’t get the protection they need. Instead infants, especially those with lighter complexions, should be kept out of direct sunlight, as their skin is thinner and may possess far too little melanin to provide natural sun protection.

If you’re concerned about sun safety as well as the safety of sunscreen products, visit the Environmental Working Group’s website. It contains helpful advice on how to pick the safest, most effective sunscreens and information on the hidden damage of the sun's ultraviolet rays.

3. Filling up your car when the air is cool gets you more gasoline. Many consumer advice blogs tell their readers to buy gasoline very early in the morning, while the air is cooler in the station’s fuel storage tanks. The basic premise behind this advice is true: all liquids expand when heated, so if you buy gasoline when the storage tank is at its coldest, the gasoline will be denser and expand in your car’s tank as it gets warmer.

However, the temperature variation between day and night in an underground, double-welled and insulated fuel tank is negligible at best, unlike the temperature variations at the surface. So the temperature of the gasoline that is pumped will be roughly the same regardless the time of day. 

At midday, however, the first few gallons out of the nozzle might be warmer than what’s in the tank below as this fuel is above ground at the pump. However, the difference in liquid density is so miniscule that it’s not even worth noting. And even if these first few gallons were exceedingly warmer than in the storage tank below — say 15° F — it would only result in a one-percent gain in gasoline volume. This calculates out to just a few cents difference for the first  1-2 gallons (which is what can roughly be stored in the pump). Is that difference worth it for you to adjust your daily routine?

4. Putting batteries in the freezer extends their life. Long before the Internet, people have stored their household batteries in the freezer or refrigerator, but it seems to be an even more popular piece of (bad) advice today. And while this practice is imbued in tradition, chilling your batteries doesn’t make them last longer, and it could possibly have the exact opposite effect.

Instructions on battery packs recommend that consumers store them in a cool, dry location, as lower temperatures reduce the power drain on the electrolyte fluid inside batteries. So, what’s cooler and drier than a refrigerator or freezer, right? The average refrigerator keeps things crisp at 35-40° F with little humidity, and freezers are even colder, at about 0-18° F.

However, fridges and freezers are far from ideal storage environments, as the condensation in them can actually cause corrosion that will decrease a battery’s shelf life. In fact, the top battery manufacturers, Duracell and Energizer, recommend that consumers not store your batteries in the fridge whatsoever.

5. Apple computers can’t get viruses. Without getting into the full debate over which computing platform is better, it’s important to debunk on the most frequent arguments made by Apple aficionados; that their laptops and desktops have a unique code underpinning that prevents them from getting viruses. This has no basis in fact: No personal or business computer, no matter the manufacturer or operating system, is impervious to viruses and malicious code.

This rumor began in the early to mid 1990’s when Apple had only about 10 percent of the personal computing market share. At the same time, online services, such as Compuserve, GEnie and America Online, proliferated. So at the time, those who wrote malicious code mostly targeted the Windows operating system, which is where the lion’s share of users were; the Mac footprint was not large enough to even bother with. Times have changed, however, and now Apple has nearly a third of the personal computing market share and hundreds of viruses have been written that can affect Mac OS operating systems. Moreover, a lot of malware now affects the security functions of popular web browsers and plug-ins, and are not specific to any operating system.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.


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