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Photo by: Naser Chawroka

Reality star Kourtney Kardashian shared an alarming post over Halloween weekend about single-use surgical masks posing a health risk to everyday wearers. However, Moffitt Cancer Center experts say that this post was misleading and dangerous.

screenshot of kourney kardashian instagram story

Source: Instagram/Kourtney Kardashian

In a screenshot posted to Instagram from an uncredited source, Kardashian claimed that surgical masks contain a man-made chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene that can increase the risk of certain cancers, thyroid disease, pregnancy complications and cause flu-like symptoms for daily wearers. The post cited, the website for the American Cancer Society.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a synthetic chemical found regularly in non-stick cookware. The commonly known brand name of PTFE-based formulas is Teflon. Although PTFE is used in some reusable masks like those containing filters, there is little evidence showing that exposure to PTFE can cause health problems. Furthermore, single-use surgical masks are most commonly made from a different type of plastic called polypropylene.

Despite citing the American Cancer Society in the social media post, there is little documentation from the organization on PTFE causing cancer. In fact, the only article on the organization’s website mentioning PTFE says, “Whether Teflon and other non-stick coatings themselves cause cancer has not been the main focus of concerns.”

Dr. William Cance, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, told both the New York Post and Yahoo Entertainment, “There is no evidence to support the claim that the presence of PTFE in a mask causes cancer.” He went on to say, “As a surgical oncologist, I, along with thousands of colleagues in the health-care profession, have been wearing masks for years to protect patients from the spread of infections.”

With over 102 million followers on Instagram, the reality star commands the attention of a large audience of young people – a population that has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases over the last few months. An October report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that between June and August of 2020, the highest incidence of COVID-19 occurred in persons aged 20 to 29 years. Younger adults, like most of Kardashian’s followers, are likely contributing to the recent rise in community transmission of COVID-19.

Dr Peter Kanetsky

Dr. Peter Kanetsky, Chair, Cancer Epidemiology Department

Dr. Peter Kanetsky, chair of the Department of Cancer Epidemiology at Moffitt Cancer Center said, “With such a large audience of young people who not only get infected by the virus causing COVID-19 but also contribute to community transmission of the virus, it’s extremely dangerous to peddle conspiracy theories about masks in the middle of a global pandemic. People should listen to scientific experts and heed their advice: wear your mask, wash your hands and keep socially distanced.”

While the Kardashian clan earns between an estimated $75,000 and $1.2 million per Instagram post for endorsing everything from clothing to prescription drugs, none of the family members have degrees in medicine, doctorates in public health or other scientific fields or are considered experts in COVID-19.

Experts still agree that wearing a mask is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of coronaviruses. Combined with frequent handwashing and social distancing, masks are your best weapon against contracting COVID-19. Masks should be fitted to your face while covering both your nose and mouth.