Summer is upon us, which means more time outdoors, enjoying those lovely moments of good weather.
We’ve put together 11 common myths around sun safety to help you through the summer months. Take a read through to help you keep your skin healthy and reduce your risk of serious sun damage.
1. I can tan or burn through a window or glass.
Indoors you’re mostly protected from sunburn, but some UV rays can still get through glass. So if you spend lots of time driving or sitting in a conservatory when the sun is strong, then long-term you might be at risk of skin damage from those UV rays. Protect your skin with clothes and sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and 4 or 5 stars.
2. I need to get as much sun as possible to get enough vitamin D
We all need a bit of sun to make vitamin D. How much sun will vary from person to person – people with lighter skin tones only need a brief sun exposure, while people with darker skin tones may need a little more time for the body to make enough vitamin D.
Whatever your skin tone, there’s no need to sunbathe or risk sunburn in order to get vitamin D. Once your body has made enough, it’ll start to break down any extra vitamin D that’s made, so spending even longer in the sun won’t help. Plus, you can get vitamin D from your diet or supplements.
3. Tanned skin is a sign of good health
Nope. A tan is a sign that your skin is trying to protect itself from the damage the sun is doing.
Any pink or redness, tenderness or itching after being in the sun, even if your skin isn’t raw or blistered, is a clear sign that the genetic material (DNA) in your skin cells has been damaged. This kind of damage can build up over time and cause skin cancer.
Excess sun exposure is the number one cause of skin cancers, including melanoma – the most serious form. In fact, an estimated 9 out of 10 cases of melanoma skin cancer are linked to excess sun or UV light exposure.
4. I can’t get sunburnt on cloudy days
Yes you can – UV rays can go through clouds!
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. You can find the UV index on most weather forecasts, on your phone weather app or on The Met Office website.
5. People with darker skin don’t get sunburnt
Anyone can get sunburnt – including people with darker or brown skin. But your risk of getting sunburnt will depend on your 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 get to know your skin and how easily you burn to know when you’ll need to protect yourself from the sun.
6. The SPF in my makeup is enough protection
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. You’re also highly unlikely to reapply makeup regularly enough, so using makeup with SPF is not the same as putting on sunscreen.
7. The sun in the UK isn’t strong enough to give me sunburn
It can be – especially between mid-March and mid-October.
It’s easy to underestimate how strong the sun can be here in the UK and get caught out. Did you know that up to 9 in 10 cases of melanoma skin cancer could be prevented by enjoying the sun safely?
During this time, it’s best to check the UV Index and if it’s 3 or more, you may need to take sun precautions of shade, clothing and sunscreen. Also think about the ‘shadow rule’, if your shadow is shorter than your height, this means that the sun’s UV rays could be strong.
8. Sunbeds are a safer way to tan
Sunbeds cause skin cancer and there’s no such thing as a safe tan. Did you know that using sunbeds can increase your risk of melanoma skin cancer by 16-20%?A tan is a sign that your body is trying to repair the damage caused by UV rays.
9. The sun is strongest when it’s hottest
Surprisingly, not. The heat of the sun doesn’t come from its skin-damaging UV rays.
UV rays are always strongest when the sun is highest in the sky, which in the UK summer is between 11am and 3pm, although it can be different in other countries. Temperature varies more and tends to be highest slightly later.
So if you want to get out and enjoy the nice weather later in the day when it’s still warm, the risk of burning won’t be as high.
10. I’ve been sunburnt before, so there’s no point in protecting myself now – the damage is already done
Not true. Damage can build up over time and it’s never too late to protect yourself.
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 can build up. It’s this that can increase your risk of skin cancer.
11. Higher SPF sunscreens are much better than lower SPF ones
No sunscreen is 100% effective.
There’s some evidence that using sunscreen with SPF15+ reduces the risk of melanoma compared with using no sunscreen or a lower SPF. But going higher than SPF15 might not offer the protection boost you’d expect.
If applied properly, and used in combination with covering up and seeking shade, SPF15 should be enough to protect you wherever you are in the world. It’s best to go for sunscreen with a star rating of 4 or 5 as well.
If however your doctor has recommended you use a higher SPF sunscreen because of a specific medical condition, you should follow this advice.
Davina Bailey September 16, 2021
Really useful information thank you since having cancer I cover up and use sun screen
Christine Marshall September 16, 2021
My son lost his battle with melanoma 5 years ago aged 39. This horrible disease must be beaten
Karen White August 17, 2021
Clear, comprehensive and helpful information.
Kim August 10, 2021
Love the shadow advice. My sun tan lotion is part of my daily make up regime. If I need to look tanned I use fake tan. At 63 I’m wrinkled enough, so look after my skin.
Kimn August 9, 2021
Proofread the email that is being sent!!!
It says:’I can get sunburnt on cloudy days’ as the myth!!
I had to come on here because I thought that it was false.
Cenetta Haxby August 8, 2021
Really useful information Thankyou.
Lesley August 8, 2021
This was a very informative article
Linda Francis August 8, 2021
Gwyndaf Tomos August 8, 2021
In my 20s i suffered nasty sunburn and after this, I stripped down in the early morning and then put my shirt back on until late afternoon or early evening depending on how strong I felt the sun was and have not suffered serious sunburn for the last 50 years or so.
Patricia Hallman August 7, 2021
I have never sunbathed and have had 3 basil cancers. So you are quite right in saying that even just walking around in the sun without suncream can cause problems. So f this helps someone out there who is sceptical this might help
Mike Eppel August 7, 2021
Good and useful information.
Mark Boocock August 7, 2021
Very helpful and very informative.
Irene Threlkeld August 6, 2021
Very helpful. I don’t sunbathe.
Allyson Taylor August 6, 2021
This is really helpful. I use SPF 50 having had benign moles removed . Also Tilley hat with SPF. Maybe add comment on hats with this?
Lynne August 5, 2021
Very interesting and informative, the part of how your shadow is in the sun Is a fantastic way to tell you when you should definitely stay out and this I will pass on to my friends. Really knowledgeable info.
Carol Lawton August 5, 2021
Very useful information.I take medication that increases my photo sensitivity,so generaly I use sunscreen & cover up. Especially a hat,to protect my eyes,which are Extreamly prone to the sun and can swell up.
Carol Beattie August 4, 2021
Very helpful, thank you
Nichola Dowens August 4, 2021
Louanne Cameron July 28, 2021
Great information blog
Richard Stephens July 27, 2021
Point 3 says 8 out of 10 cases of melanoma might be attributable to sun damage. Point 7 suggests it is 9 out of 10. Which is it please?
Point 2 suggests CRUK is recommending diet/supplements instead of sunlight? But in view of the need to keep the nation exercising and getting some fresh air, would it be more useful to suggest a rough idea for how much sun/daylight we need on average eg 20 minutes a day as a guide?
Katie Roberts July 30, 2021
Thanks for your comment. The exact figure is 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation in the UK. Up to 9 in 10 is the most accurate when including sun beds into this stat. We have changed the other stat to reflect 9 in 10 to be as clear as possible.
When it comes to vitamin D, there is a balance to be struck when spending time in the sun. Sunlight helps us produce vitamin D, but too much can cause skin cancer. This balance is different for each person and depends on your skin type, the time of day or year and where you are in the world. The government recommends people at risk of having low vitamin D take a supplement, and that everyone think about doing this between October and the end of March, when the sun’s rays are less strong. The amount of time you need in the sun is probably less than you think and may be just minutes. Visit our webpage for more information.
Katie, Cancer Research UK