Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter
Donate

Let's beat cancer sooner

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’

15586752241_49f0011b6d_h

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’

screen_shot_2016-05-20_at_16.39.03

 

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’

pexels-photo-2

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’

sunscreen bottles

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’

pexels-photo

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’

8889596285_a7168423a3_z

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’

sea-sunny-beach-holiday

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’

sky-sunny-clouds-cloudy

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’

sunscreen kid

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’

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 11.38.26

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’

2_4

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’

2698363507_d1f18fcd08_z

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

Comments

Pamela June 26, 2016

Good article with useful facts.
I am fair skinned and burn easily . As a child my mother protected my skin and instilled In me a good protection regime as there were no sun creams readily available in the 60s. When adventuring abroad on holiday 10years ago I sought advice in a major chemist chain. I was told Spf30 was suitable. I didn’t burn, but I can see the damage like scars on my lower arms and age spots on my hands. 2 years ago a sore spot of skin broke out on my nose and wouldn’t heal. It was sun damage. I was given a gel which literally burned a small hole in my face, not a nice experience but I reckon I was lucky it was caught early. I now use Ultrasun 50+ on any exposed skin, sit in the shade and wear a hat. I use rose oil on my face which has also helped with pigmentation. I look at my plant pots on the patio and see them turning whiter. If the sun is bleaching them what is it doing to us? You cannot be complacent.

John June 26, 2016

Where is the relevant articles and journals supporting these claims?
I would like to see the evidence supporting these claims?
What sample sizes where used to provide the evidence supporting these claims?

MaryRoe June 25, 2016

a useful and clear set of instructions

Janet Moore June 25, 2016

A very informative article. Many things I did,nt know about.

Veronica Steel June 24, 2016

I agree with all that you have said as I lost my father from malignant melanoma 24 years ago. I personally use a high factor organic sun cream as I experienced a skin rash from commercial preparations.l

Jodie Robinson June 23, 2016

Very interesting

Elaine lexanderg June 23, 2016

Good common sense warnings and advice. I would,point out however. That the higher factor can cause allergies. I tried a Factor 50 sunscreen by Nivea and have ended up with eczema (I have never suffered from this in my 73 years prior to using this sunscreen). I have been told it is better to use Factor 15 and keep replenishing it regularly.

Maureen June 23, 2016

Good advice. However can someone please confirm if it is true that wearing suncream when swimming in a pool is of no value as the chemicals in the pool negate the effectiveness of the suncream.

Mrs J A Humphries June 23, 2016

Excellent questions and answers- thank you

Brian Mayell June 23, 2016

The article (as usual) was very informative and full of important information.

Jane June 23, 2016

Good advice, but I would like to know which sun protection products your society would recommend!

Ann June 22, 2016

Very helpful and informative!

Carol Jones June 22, 2016

Very informative easy read

Researcher Mr,Md.Syedur Rahman Chowdhury June 22, 2016

Basal cell carcinoma signs and symptoms

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck or face.

Basal cell carcinoma may appear as:

A pearly or waxy bump
A flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
Squamous cell carcinoma signs and symptoms

Most often, squamous cell carcinoma occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your face, ears and hands. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma on areas that aren’t often exposed to the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as:

A firm, red nodule
A flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface
Melanoma signs and symptoms

Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. Melanoma most often appears on the face or the trunk of affected men. In women, this type of cancer most often develops on the lower legs. In both men and women, melanoma can occur on skin that hasn’t been exposed to the sun.

Melanoma can affect people of any skin tone. In people with darker skin tones, melanoma tends to occur on the palms or soles, or under the fingernails or toenails.

Melanoma signs include:

A large brownish spot with darker speckles
A mole that changes in color, size or feel or that bleeds
A small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, white, blue or blue-black
Dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina or anus
Signs and symptoms of less common skin cancers

Other, less common types of skin cancer include:

Kaposi sarcoma. This rare form of skin cancer develops in the skin’s blood vessels and causes red or purple patches on the skin or mucous membranes.

Kaposi sarcoma mainly occurs in people with weakened immune systems, such as people with AIDS, and in people taking medications that suppress their natural immunity, such as people who’ve undergone organ transplants.

Other people with an increased risk of Kaposi sarcoma include young men living in Africa or older men of Italian or Eastern European Jewish heritage.

Merkel cell carcinoma. Merkel cell carcinoma causes firm, shiny nodules that occur on or just beneath the skin and in hair follicles. Merkel cell carcinoma is most often found on the head, neck and trunk.
Sebaceous gland carcinoma. This uncommon and aggressive cancer originates in the oil glands in the skin. Sebaceous gland carcinomas — which usually appear as hard, painless nodules — can develop anywhere, but most occur on the eyelid, where they’re frequently mistaken for other eyelid problems.
When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin that worry you. Not all skin changes are caused by skin cancer. Your doctor will investigate your skin changes to determine a cause.

Researcher Mr,Md.Syedur Rahman Chowdhury June 22, 2016

Basal cell carcinoma signs and symptoms

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck or face.

Basal cell carcinoma may appear as:

A pearly or waxy bump
A flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
Squamous cell carcinoma signs and symptoms

Most often, squamous cell carcinoma occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your face, ears and hands. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma on areas that aren’t often exposed to the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as:

A firm, red nodule
A flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface
Melanoma signs and symptoms

Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. Melanoma most often appears on the face or the trunk of affected men. In women, this type of cancer most often develops on the lower legs. In both men and women, melanoma can occur on skin that hasn’t been exposed to the sun.

Melanoma can affect people of any skin tone. In people with darker skin tones, melanoma tends to occur on the palms or soles, or under the fingernails or toenails.

Melanoma signs include:

A large brownish spot with darker speckles
A mole that changes in color, size or feel or that bleeds
A small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, white, blue or blue-black
Dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina or anus
Signs and symptoms of less common skin cancers

Other, less common types of skin cancer include:

Kaposi sarcoma. This rare form of skin cancer develops in the skin’s blood vessels and causes red or purple patches on the skin or mucous membranes.

Kaposi sarcoma mainly occurs in people with weakened immune systems, such as people with AIDS, and in people taking medications that suppress their natural immunity, such as people who’ve undergone organ transplants.

Other people with an increased risk of Kaposi sarcoma include young men living in Africa or older men of Italian or Eastern European Jewish heritage.

Merkel cell carcinoma. Merkel cell carcinoma causes firm, shiny nodules that occur on or just beneath the skin and in hair follicles. Merkel cell carcinoma is most often found on the head, neck and trunk.
Sebaceous gland carcinoma. This uncommon and aggressive cancer originates in the oil glands in the skin. Sebaceous gland carcinomas — which usually appear as hard, painless nodules — can develop anywhere, but most occur on the eyelid, where they’re frequently mistaken for other eyelid problems.
When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin that worry you. Not all skin changes are caused by skin cancer. Your doctor will investigate your skin changes to

Paul June 22, 2016

I think this information should ( if it is not already) be taught in all our schools.

Malcolm June 22, 2016

A very good informative article. If only we had this information when I was a child.

Bet Filby June 22, 2016

This is really good stuff and worth remembering. I don’t think we will ever convince people that a tan is not a “good” look though! You still hear them say things like “don’t you look well?” and “you look really healthy!”. I’m trying to stay “pale and interesting”!!

Ian Brough June 22, 2016

Valuable informationm

Lisa Tripp June 22, 2016

Brilliant advice.

Jan June 22, 2016

Clothing can have spf too, especially sports/ outdoor shirts etc. Look for the label.

Michael Mason June 22, 2016

Excellent advise

Ron F June 22, 2016

great tip reminders Yess cover up

sue davies June 22, 2016

Brilliant and very informative. Thank you for clearing up the myths of sunburn. Lets hope people read and educate themselves as it could save their lives

Mhairi June 22, 2016

Great article. Only thing I’d add is that mineral sunscreens will damage your skin less than traditional non mineral sun creams (which contain chemicals which can add to cell damage and have had proven links to some types of cancer)