People sitting under a tree in the shade.

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. MYTH: I can tan through a window or glass.

EVIDENCE: Indoors you’re mostly protected from sunburn, but some UV rays can 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 damage from UVA rays. If you’re stuck by the window, protect your skin with clothes and sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and 4 or 5 stars.

2. MYTH: I need to get as much sun as possible to get enough vitamin D

EVIDENCE: 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. MYTH: Tanned skin is a sign of good health

EVIDENCE: 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 8 out of 10 cases of melanoma skin cancer are linked to excess sun or UV light exposure.

4. MYTH: I can’t get sunburnt on cloudy days

EVIDENCE: 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. MYTH: People with darker skin don’t get sunburnt

EVIDENCE: 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. MYTH: SPF in my makeup is enough

EVIDENCE: Sadly, 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. You’re also highly unlikely to reapply makeup regularly enough, so using makeup with SPF is not the same as putting on sunscreen.

7. MYTH: The sun in the UK isn’t strong enough to give me sunburn

EVIDENCE: 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.

UV index infographic

Copy this link and share our graphic. Credit: Cancer Research UK.

8. MYTH: Sunbeds are a safer way to tan

EVIDENCE: Nope, 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. MYTH: The sun is strongest when it’s hottest

EVIDENCE: 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.

Sun shadow rule

Copy this link and share our infographic. Credit: Cancer Research UK

10. MYTH: I’ve been sunburnt before, so there’s no point in protecting myself now – the damage is already done

EVIDENCE: 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. MYTH: Higher SPF sunscreens are much better than lower SPF ones

EVIDENCE: 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.

Amanda Finch

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