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Sun safety facts

Myth-busting facts to help you stay safe in the sun

NIVEA SUN and Cancer Research UK have compiled a list of myth-busting facts to encourage people to enjoy the sun safely.

Cancer Research sun safety tips


To help avoid any confusion about what to do when spending time in the sun, either abroad in sunnier climes or just in the UK, NIVEA SUN and Cancer Research UK have compiled a helpful list of myth-busting facts as part of their campaign to encourage people to enjoy the sun safely. Read on to separate the fact from the fiction.

"If I have a tan I don't need to use any sun protection"- FALSE

Contrary to popular belief, a tan will not protect you from sunburn or other skin damage. A tan will only offer protection equivalent to using a sun protection factor (SPF) of around 2-4, which is far below the recommended level of 15 or above.

"Fake tans protect against UV rays from the sun" - FALSE

Fake tan changes the colour of your skin and gives you a tanned look. While some fake tan products do contain added sunscreen, these will only give protection for a short time after you put the fake tan on. The protection won't last as long as the change in your skin colour does and it doesn't give you anywhere near the amount of protection from the sun that we recommend. People who use fake tan need to continue to protect themselves in strong sun and take care not to burn.

"Sunscreen is all I need to protect my skin from sunburn when the sun is strong" - FALSE

Sunscreen (factor 15 or higher is recommended by Cancer Research UK) should be the last line of defence to help protect skin from sunburn and shouldn't be the only thing you rely on to avoid sunburn.  It's really important to use shade and clothing too. Factor 15 or higher sunscreen can help protect parts of the body you can't cover with clothes, but no sunscreen, whatever its SPF or star rating, can offer 100 per cent protection from UV rays. And to get the level of protection written on the bottle it's important to apply enough (about an ice-cream scoopful to cover your whole body if wearing a swimsuit) and reapply regularly.

"My skin always goes pink in the sun - it's not sunburn, just part of the tanning process" - FALSE

If your skin looks pink or red after being in the sun, it's burnt - sunburn doesn't just mean red-raw, peeling or blistering skin.  Any amount of sunburn is a clear sign that ultraviolet (UV) radiation has damaged the DNA in your skin cells. This damage can build up over time and can lead to skin cancer.

When UV radiation damages the DNA in your skin cells, your body tries to repair the damage. The blood vessels in the local area swell, allowing blood to rush into it. This is why sunburn looks red. Blood inside your body is also hot, which is why it feels like sunburns give off heat. The wider blood vessels allow the cells of your immune system to travel to the site of the damage. They also release chemicals which trigger inflammation - which is why sunburn can be swollen and painful. So sunburn is a sign that your body is trying to repair the damage that it has suffered.

"I won't burn if I use sunscreen" - FALSE

Sunscreens can be useful for protecting your skin from the sun's rays, but no sunscreen, no matter how high the factor, can provide 100 per cent protection and most people don't apply enough sunscreen to give the level of protection offered on the bottle. Sunscreens will not protect you completely from sun damage on their own. This is why Cancer Research UK recommends using sunscreen of factor 15 or higher with a high star rating together with shade or clothing to avoid getting sunburnt.

Many people burn because they think they can stay out longer in the sun if they're wearing sunscreen. You should never use sunscreen in order to spend longer in the sun. Sunscreen is not as effective at preventing sunburn as reducing your time in the summer sunshine between 11am-3pm, spending time in the shade or wearing a hat and t-shirt in strong sun.

To ensure you get the best out of your sunscreen, make sure you apply the right amount. When in strong sun, use an ice cream scoop of sunscreen to cover the body when wearing a swimsuit.

"We all need to spend a long time in the sun to help us keep healthy" - FALSE

We all need some sunshine to make vitamin D which is needed to build and maintain strong bones. However, it is not necessary to deliberately sunbathe in order to make adequate amounts. Enjoying the sun safely while taking care not to burn should help most people get a good balance. You should not have to redden or burn your skin to make enough vitamin D. 

Some people are more likely to have low vitamin D levels. These people include those with naturally brown or black skin, people who wear clothing that fully covers them, pregnant women, adults over 65, and children up to 5 years old. The government recommends that these people take a supplement of 10μg (400IU) a day (7µg for children).

"You can't get sunburnt in the UK" - FALSE

Most people think about sunburn as something that happens on holiday or in hot, sunny places, but in a 2013 survey more than a third of people admitted the last time they were sunburnt was in the UK.* Many cases occur when people are out and about, rather than deliberately 'sunbathing'. You may be outdoors watching sport, doing the gardening, walking around town or just sitting in the park - when the sun is strong it's important to protect your skin from sunburn whether home or abroad.

"You can't get sunburn if it's cloudy "- FALSE

Clouds don't offer much UV protection on days when the sun is strong.  Even in overcast skies, 30-40 per cent of UV will still penetrate through cloud cover. If cloud cover is light or only partial, UV penetration can remain very high. For example, if half the sky is covered in clouds, 80 per cent of UV still shines through. So you may still need to protect your skin from sunburn on cloudy days. Check the UV index for the day to find out how strong the sun's UV rays really are, rather than relying on looking at the sky.

"Tanned people are better looking"- FALSE

Some people might feel that a tan makes them look healthier or more attractive, but over time skin that is regularly exposed to the sun will become more wrinkled, saggy, leathery and blotchy. Overexposure to the sun (or using a sunbed) prematurely ages the skin and the damage to your DNA, that you can't see happening, puts you at increased risk of developing skin cancer. 

"If you're in the water, you're protected from the sun" - FALSE

You can still get sunburnt if you're under water. When swimming or snorkelling in the sun, it's best to wear clothing that covers your arms, back and upper thighs and wear waterproof sunscreen on all exposed areas.  Remember to reapply sunscreen regularly.  Even sunscreens labelled 'waterproof' can easily be rubbed off by towel drying.

Read more sun safety information from Cancer Research UK, learn more about sun burn and watch Nicola Roberts' top tips on enjoy the sun safely.


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