Common sunscreen myths debunked – and the rules and products to use instead

Common sunscreen myths debunked – and the rules and products to use instead

05/04/2022

Is the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) in your foundation strong enough?

Does applying a thick layer of SPF15 offer stronger coverage?

And do fake tans and sunbeds boost protection against the sun?

These are some of the questions you might ask when it comes to sun care.

This week marks the British Association of Dermatologists’ Sun Awareness campaign, an event that aims to raise awareness of the dangers of burning and reinforce the need for sun protection as we head into summer.

While huge advances in technology have enabled us to understand so much more about skin itself and skin cancer prevention, there’s still a lot of confusion when it comes to understanding sunscreen.

We’ve called on Abi Cleeve, a suncare pioneer, beauty expert and UK MD of award-winning brand Ultrasun, to demystify the science.

Myth: You have to go red before you go brown

‘This is one of the biggest myths in sun protection, and it contributes to skin damage and skin cancer cases. The fact is, as soon as the skin reddens, it’s in trauma. By protecting properly from the sun, the tan achieved will last longer.

‘A “trauma tan” occurs from inadequate protection where the skin appears to tan more quickly, but hasn’t, it has burned. This only ensures that it peels, leaving the skin tan less in days.’

Tip: ‘Introduce your skin gently to the sun, higher protection and shorter exposure times at the start of any time in the sun.

‘Use high UVA and UVB filter SPF – a minimum of SPF30 with a UVA filter over 90% will protect the skin and still tan, minimising long-term damage and peeling.

‘Opt for something with a natural tan activator in the formula.’

Myth: It’s fine to slap on the cream any old how

‘A survey by the British Association of Dermatologists in 2016 identified that eight out of ten people fail to apply sunscreen adequately.

‘You need to apply it indoors, first thing in the morning. Any application in direct sunlight (ie when you’re already on the sun lounger) increases evaporation and reduces protection.’

Tip: ‘Apply liberally to all exposed, or potentially exposed, parts of the body, at least 15 minutes before you go out.

‘Look out for easy-to-miss bits (around shoulder straps and clothing) and ears, scalp and the tops of feet.’

Myth: Pigmentation is down to skincare issues

‘Pigmentation is mainly caused by over exposure to the sun. UVA rays are present year round, penetrating cloud and glass, making an effective broad spectrum protection (particularly for the face) an essential part of a daily skincare routine.

‘After wrinkles, pigmentation is the next top skin worry for women, as an uneven skin tone can be ageing. Brown patches on hands, face and décolletage are caused specifically by UVA rays, which penetrate deep into your skin.

‘These rays stimulate the melanocytes (dark cells that are there to protect us) and they may become more visible.’

Tip: ‘Use an SPF with a high UVA filter year-round on the face, and products that contain hexylresorcinol, retinol or niacinamide at night.’

Myth: All body parts are created equal when it comes to sunscreen

‘Some body parts are much more vulnerable and for women, these areas include the shins and feet.

‘The most common sites for men to develop a malignant melanoma are the chest, back and scalp. Lips are often also forgotten and with no natural shade like the lower lip, the upper lip area in particular shows ageing from sun damage quicker.’

Tip: ‘A lot of people opt for a higher protection above the waist and slightly lower below. Cocktailing your levels of protection works to protect delicate areas. Pay special attention to moles, scar tissue and tattoos.

‘A good SPF can be used on all parts of the body, but some facial formulas often have added skincare actives, so opting for one of these is an effective way to reduce the steps in your skincare routine.’

Myth: Products can be held over from last year’s holiday

‘The shelf life of all suncare products differs and an Asda survey in 2013 revealed that 57% of Brits wear out-of-date sunscreen.

‘Sunscreens are emulsions of oil and water and so will always tend towards separation. The time this takes depends on the quality of the formulation and can vary from just a few months to many years.

‘Typically, the shelf life for sunscreens is 30 months and SPF efficacy can be vastly reduced if the product has been exposed to air and sunlight. Once opened, shelf life can generally range from six to 12 months.

‘Applying an SPF that is past its recommended usage date means it will not provide the protection indicated.’

Tip: ‘Look for the open jar symbol on the label with a number that indicates exactly how many months it can be used effectively after opening.’

Myth: Prickly heat is caused by heat alone

‘Prickly heat isn’t solely about temperature. In essence it’s the skin’s way of telling you that it’s in trauma.

‘When overexposed to UVA rays, particularly on areas with a low fat to bone ratio (prickly heat is very common on the décolleté) the skin “puffs” up as it tries to create a larger surface area to absorb the rays. Skin needs time to adjust to UV exposure.’

Tip: ‘Look out for products containing Superoxide Dismustase, a potent coolant, and AQUARICH, to deliver intense hydration to the skin.

‘Both help the skin’s natural recovery and repair process. Aloe vera is also a known natural soother.’

Myth: Makeup offers adequate sun protection

‘While a number of moisturisers and makeup brands contain an SPF sunscreen of around SPF15 within them, SPF is only for UVB rays, they often do not contain UVA filters.

‘These products often tend not to be photostable, and the protection deteriorates as the day goes on.

‘By the very nature of their intended use, moisturisers and foundations are applied thinly and therefore don’t provide the tested level of protection, which is based on 5ml of product for the face.’

Tip: ‘Ideally, individuals should choose sun protection products for their face that contain SPF30 or above and choose ones with broad spectrum protection to prevent damage from both UVA and UVB rays.

Remember that UV rays also penetrate 90% of cloud cover, making year-round protection important.’

Myth: Sun cream is just for hot weather holidays

‘Sun protection is now very much part of a daily skincare routine and anyone serious about their skincare will know that UVA and UVB protection is a daily core component.

‘No serum or moisturisers can reverse UV damage. Also, remember that UV rays increase in potency depending on location.

‘For example, the reflection of UV on snow’s white surface increases potency by 80%. Protection during ski holidays is vital.’

Tip: ‘Opt for a good UV protection product that multi-tasks, delivering lightweight coverage under makeup – some can rival and replace BB and CC creams – plus anti-ageing, anti-pollution, skin radiance and smoothing benefits.’

Myth: Having a few sunbed sessions will give me better protection against the sun

‘Unprotected intense UVA exposure from sunbeds is never advisable, both for skin damage and for the long-term increased skin cancer risk.

‘A spray tan is the obvious safe alternative, but fake tan formulas do not protect from the sun either.’

Tip: ‘Apply fake tan the night before sun exposure, as the DHA in fake tan can compromise UV filters – never use together – and apply UV protection as normal the day after.’

Sunscreen + skincare – the best multi-products on the market

DermaQuest Youth Protection SPF30

Light enough to wear under makeup

DermaQuest Youth Protection SPF30 contains stabilised oil-soluble vitamin C which offers potent antioxidant protection while improving the tone and texture of the skin.

It’s also light enough to wear under makeup.

Buy for £46 from DermaQuest.

PRIORI Tetra Broad Spectrum Mineral Sunscreen SPF50

Protects from the suns rays and blue light damage

PRIORI Tetra Broad Spectrum Mineral Sunscreen SPF50 provides blue light defence, antioxidants and DNA repair enzymes.

The matt lotion also offers a universal tint that blends into any complexion.

Buy for £75 from PRIORI.

COOLA Mineral Sun Silk Crème Organic Face Sunscreen SPF30

Packed with skincare heroes (Picture: Troyer Images)

Lightweight, vegan and full of organic ingredients including hydrating aloe leaf, antioxidant plant stem cells to protect from free radicals and niacinamide to brighten, COOLA Mineral Sun Silk Crème Organic Face Sunscreen
SPF30 is a no-brainer.

Buy fir £42 from Space NK.

Avène Very High Protection Cleanance SPF50+

Ideal for blemish-prone skin

Avène Very High Protection Cleanance SPF50+ is water, sweat and sand-resistant and designed for oily or blemish-prone skin.

The anti-blemish formula limits the appearance of scars, while zinc gluconate is an anti-inflammatory and Avène Thermal Spring Water is an anti-irritating active.

Buy for £14 from Boots.

Ultrasun Face Anti-pigmentation Tinted SPF50+

Helps with pigmentation

With high UVA (95% against an EU standard of 33%) and UVB protection, Ultrasun Face Anti-pigmentation Tinted SPF50+ also contains ingredients to help with pigmentation and neutralise free radicals, plus stabilised vitamin C and iron will mitigate blue light impact from UV rays.

Buy for £36 from Ultrasun.

Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration Dry Oil Mist SPF30

Simply spray on this ocean-friendly mist and go

A great one for the body, Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration Dry Oil Mist SPF30 is infused with coconut and argan oil to offer skin nourishment and hydration.

The reef-friendly formulas contain no oxybenzone or octinoxate, which can be detrimental to the environment.

Buy for £14.99 from Feel Unique.

For more information visit skinhealthinfo.org.uk/sun-awareness.

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.

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