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12 sun safety myths debunked

Category: Science blog June 10, 2016 Jana Witt 140 comments

Summer is upon us (in theory at least) and that means more time outdoors, enjoying those precious moments of decent weather. But just because we may have forgotten what sunshine looks like, doesn’t mean we should forget the damage that can occur if our skin is overexposed to the sun.

Because as well as sunburn and premature ageing, excess sun exposure is the number one cause of skin cancers, including melanoma – the most serious form. In fact, an estimated eight out of 10 cases of melanoma are linked to excess sun or UV light exposure.

So with the sun out, we thought we’d clear up 12 common myths around sun safety to help you keep your skin healthy and reduce your risk of serious damage.

Myth #1: ‘Sunscreen is the best way to protect myself from too much sun’

Image credit: flickr

When it comes to protecting your skin, there’s much more to think about than just sunscreen – much more. Sunscreen shouldn’t even be the first thing you think about. Making sure you spend time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK summer – as well as abroad -, and covering up with clothing, a hat and sunglasses are much better ways to enjoy the sun safely. Sunscreen is best used as a supporting act to protect the bits you can’t cover. Use one that has at least SPF15 and 4 or more stars; put plenty on and reapply regularly.

Myth #2: ‘Tanned skin is a sign of good health’

 

No it’s not – a tan is a sign that your skin is trying to protect itself from the damage the sun is doing – it’s certainly not a sign of good health. And any pink- or redness, even if your skin isn’t raw or blistered, is a clear sign that the genetic material (DNA) in skin cells has been damaged. This kind of damage can build up over time and cause skin cancer. Cancer Research UK would like to see more people celebrate their natural skin tone #OwnYourTone

Myth #3: ‘I can’t get sunburnt on cloudy days’

Yes you can – UV rays can go through clouds, so cloudy and even rainy days can be deceiving. If it’s overcast or if there’s a bit of wind you may also not notice that you’re getting sunburnt before it’s too late. The UV Index can help you check how strong the sun will be on a given day – if it’s 3 or above the sun’s strong enough to cause sunburn, especially in people who burn easily and/or have fair skin.

Myth #4: ‘Sunscreen that’s more expensive offers better protection’

Image credit: flickr

The most important thing is actually the SPF and star rating, rather than price or brand. In tests by Which? cheaper brands performed as well as more expensive ones, and the majority of products provided the level of protection advertised on the bottle. But no matter the price, what’s most important to remember is to put on enough sunscreen and to reapply it regularly. And that even goes for once-a-day sunscreens.

Myth #5: ‘Dark skinned people don’t get sunburnt’

Anyone can get sunburnt – including dark skinned people. But different people will have a different risk of sunburn depending on their skin type. Generally in the UK people with fairer skin are at higher risk of sunburn whereas people with darker skin are more likely to have low vitamin D – so it’s a good idea to know your skin type and when you’ll need to protect yourself.

Myth #6: ‘SPF in my makeup is enough’

Image credit: flickr

Sadly it’s not. Even if your makeup label claims to offer sun protection, you’d need to apply several times the normal amount of foundation to get even close to the level of protection stated on the bottle – and let’s face it: that just wouldn’t look good. And you’re also highly unlikely to reapply makeup regularly enough; so using makeup with SPF is not the same as putting on sunscreen.

Myth #7: ‘I need to get as much sun as possible to get enough vitamin D’

While it’s true that we all need a bit of sun to make vitamin D, for most people brief, casual exposure to the sun allows the body to make enough, so there’s no need to sunbathe or risk sunburn. And once you’ve made enough, your body will just start to break down any extra vitamin D that’s made – so spending even longer in the sun won’t help.

Myth #8: ‘The sun in the UK isn’t strong enough to give me sunburn’

It can be – especially between March and October. It’s easy to underestimate how strong the sun can be here and get caught out. In fact, a 2016 survey by Cancer Research UK and Nivea Sun showed that more than 8 in 10 British people have got sunburnt in the UK. Check the UV Index or use the ‘shadow rule’ to work out whether the sun is strong – simply look at your shadow and if it’s shorter than your height this means that the sun’s UV rays are strong.

Myth #9: ‘Sunscreens need to protect you from infrared rays too’

Image credit: flickr

A number of sunscreens now offer protection from infrared rays. But when it comes to skin cancer risk, infrared protection isn’t important – it’s UV rays that matter. So there’s no need to fork out extra for sunscreen that protects from infrared if you don’t want to. Just make sure your sunscreen offers at least SPF15 and 4 or more stars for UV protection.

Myth #10: ‘A tan protects my skin from sun damage’

A tan only offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of around 3 – not nearly enough to protect yourself from sun damage. There is no such thing as a safe tan.

Myth #11: ‘I’ve been sunburnt before, so there’s no point in protecting myself now – the damage is already done’

Nope! First of all, your body has sophisticated repair mechanisms that can fix some of the damage that is done when you get sunburnt. Unfortunately, those repair mechanisms aren’t perfect and with every sunburn, damage builds up, increasing your risk of skin cancer. But because this damage is cumulative – rather than a one-time event – it’s never too late to start protecting yourself.

Myth #12: ‘Aftersun products repair the damage done by sunburn’

Image credit: flickr

No they don’t. While aftersun products may soothe the unpleasant symptoms of sunburn, they won’t fix any damage that was done to the DNA inside your cells. So if you notice that your skin is starting to go red, seek shade and cover up immediately. Don’t spend more time in the sun that day – even with sunscreen – and don’t rely on aftersun to fix the damage.

Jana