5 myths about sun safety you should stop believing

With temperatures set to soar this weekend, it feels like summer is finally here in the UK. With a whole nation taking to the outdoors to soak up the sun, Nuffield Health's consultant dermatologist, Dr Walayat Hussain, is keen to bust five top myths surrounding sun safety and ensure people think twice about risking their health during the heatwave.


Myth 1: Your skin is only damaged when it becomes sun burnt


"Sunburn is skin damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays so everyone who is exposed to UV light is at risk,” says Dr Hussain. “Some people are more vulnerable than others, such as those with pale skin or many moles. Sunburn is only a short-term risk of sun exposure though, with everyone being at risk of further irreversible and serious sun-damage, which can lead to skin cancer regardless of vulnerability to sunburn."


Myth 2: Not using sun lotion gives you a better long lasting tan

Although more sun exposure encourages more melanin production and a deeper tan, too much sun too early will result in burning. “It’s important to give your body time to ‘acclimatise’ by starting holidays with factor 50, then factor 40 and reduce until you find a healthy balance between tanning and sun protection,” says Dr Hussain. “If at the end of the day you burn, tingle or itch, go back up to a stronger sun factor cream.”

Do remember that any exposure to the sun results in the risk of skin damage, particularly as you lower your SPF. Burning is a clear sign that your cells have mutated, dramatically increasing your risk of skin cancer.


Myth 3SPF is the only important rating on sun lotions

"UVA and UVB are the two kinds of UV ray that affect us on the Earth’s surface,” says Dr Hussain. “Both can damage our skin and can cause cancer. SPF (skin protection factor) is only a measure of how well the lotion will protect you from UVB light and many lotions only protect you from UVB radiation.” 

To make sure you are protected from both UVA and UVB check the bottle for a star rating, which is the measure of UVA protection in relation to the SPF. “Three to five stars will protect you sufficiently dependent on your SPF,” says Dr Hussain. “Look for the term ‘broad spectrum’ which means the lotion protects from both UVA and UVB."


Myth 4: It's effective to use the same SPF on any part of the body


"The face, nose, eyes and ears are more sensitive to the sun than the body, so wear a stronger factor on these areas and put a hat and sunglasses on especially between the hours of 11am and 2pm when the sun is at its strongest,” says Dr Hussain. “Make sure the hat covers the neck, which is often overlooked.”


Myth 5: Your clothes protect you from any sun damage

Many people think they don't have to wear sun lotion if they are covered up and wearing clothes. In fact, many fabrics will not protect you from the sun's rays. “UPF is a rating of sun protection for clothing and other fabrics,” says Dr Hussain. “Lighter fabrics, which are more popular in sunny months typically have a lower UPF rating, and are less protective than heavier fabrics. So it's important that you apply sun lotion even if you cover up."