Ouch - Sunburn. The Facts!

Friday 16th May 2014 by Charlotte Maxwell

In preparation for that long hot summer that we are going to be having  (C’mon now lets think positively.  After all that rain – surely we are going to have wall to wall sun this summer?) and in light of the recent Hugh Jackman story regarding skin cancer, we thought it would be the perfect time to set the record straight on sunburn and sunscreen and some of those myths:

Suntanned skin is healthy
A suntan is a sign of skin damage, just like a sunburn.

You can’t get sunburn on a cloudy day
Up to 80 percent of the UV rays that cause sun damage penetrate clouds, so your chances of getting sunburn on a cloudy day are quite high.  Also, since UV rays can be reflected off of water, sand, snow, and concrete, you can even get a sunburn in the shade or when skiing on a cold, winter day. 

A base tan protects you
There is no such thing as s safe tan. A tan is literally your body’s response to being injured by UV exposure.

Sun is needed to get enough vitamin D
This is a common misconception. Most people don’t apply sunscreen well enough to prevent skin from producing vitamin D. You need much less time in the sun to make adequate levels than you might think. If your skin just kept making vitamin D in response to sunlight, it would reach toxic levels. After 15 minutes or so, the system overloads and production stops. Being tanned isn’t a good indicator of healthy vitamin D levels.  One classic study of Hawaiian surfers found that although all participants were tanned, many were still vitamin D deficient.

80 percent of sun damage occurs before age 18
The latest thinking shows that you get closer to just 25 percent of total sun exposure by age 18—that 80 percent figure is outdated and inaccurate. Further, experts say revamping your sun habits at any age is a smart move. It’s the same as smoking cigarettes—no matter how much damage you’ve done, it’s always good to stop.

While it’s true that melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is more closely linked to childhood sunburns, it’s cumulative sun exposure that’s associated with other skin cancers, not to mention wrinkles, thinning skin, dark spots, and ‘broken’ capillary veins on the skin.

I can get sunburned through a window
This is a myth, but you still need sunscreen. Window glass in cars, homes, and buildings blocks the sun’s UVB rays, the ultraviolet light responsible for sunburn — but it doesn’t stop UVA rays. These penetrate deep into the skin, damaging the collagen fibers that keep skin looking firm and increasing risk for skin cancer. If you spend a lot of time close to a sunny window or driving in the car, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

If you have darker skin you dont have to worry 
This is incorrect.  Many people with more pigment in their skin will have a lower skin cancer risk but they’re not immune. One CDC paper found that up to 30 percent of darker-skinned ethnic groups reported at least one sunburn in the previous year. 

Wearing a t-shirt while in the sun will protect you from burning. 
While clothing provides some protection, a standard white t-shirt only has an SPF of about 7. If it’s wet, the SPF can go down as low as 3.  The darker and thicker the clothing, the more protection it provides

If my skin is cooler it will not sunburn as quickly
False!  Although a cool breeze, swimming, or cooler temperatures will make the skin feel more comfortable, it is getting the same dose of UVV radiation as when the wind is light and temperatures are hot. Some people make the mistake of staying out in the sun longer since they don’t feel hot. Then they go inside and realize they overexposed themselves.

SPFs over 30 don’t give you more protection.
True! Sunscreens are rated or classified by the strength of their sun protection factor (SPF). The SPF numbers on the packaging can range from as low as 2 to greater than 50. These numbers refer to the product’s ability to deflect the sun’s burning rays (UVB). However, some sunscreens now include compounds such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and avobenzone which helps protect against UVA rays as well. The sunscreen SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce a sunburn on sunscreen-protected skin to the amount of time needed to cause a sunburn on unprotected skin.

Many people mistakenly think that a sunscreen with an SPF 45 rating would give three times as much protection as one with an SPF of 15. This is not true. SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97%, SPF 50 sunscreens filter 98%, and SPF 100 filter 99%. The higher you go, the smaller the difference becomes.

We hope that our sunburn facts are useful.