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Be sunsmart - myth busting

UV rays (which cause sunburn) are always strongest when the sun is highest in the sky, which in summer in the UK is between 11am and 3pm (it can be different abroad). The heat of the sun doesn’t come from these skin-damaging UV rays.

The temperature varies more and tends to be at its maximum slightly later than when the sun is highest. So if you 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.

The sun can be strong enough to burn in the UK from the start of April to the end of September, even if it doesn’t feel that warm, or it’s a cloudy day. The UV Index can tell you how strong the sun is where you are today, and can be found on weather forecasts and the Met Office website. If the UV index is 3 or above, think about protecting your skin, and take extra care if you get sunburnt easily or have a lighter skin tone.

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 4 or more stars.

Not necessarily. If your skin’s gone red or pink in the sun, that’s sunburn. Even if your skin goes pink but then a tan develops that still counts as having been burnt. Sunburn is dangerous due to the damage caused to the DNA inside cells by the UV rays.

You can’t always see the sunburn. For people with naturally darker skin it might just feel irritated, tender or itchy rather than your skin changing colour.

Getting sunburnt doesn’t mean you will definitely develop skin cancer. But sunburn just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma (skin cancer). So if you've had sunburn in the past, it’s a good idea to think about what more you can do to protect your skin next time.

No sunscreen is 100% effective and as SPF increases, sunscreens provide less and less extra protection. SPF15 should be enough wherever you are in the world, if it’s used properly. Higher SPFs don’t add much in terms of protection and might encourage you to spend longer in the sun inadvertently leading to more damage. Any sunscreen you use should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to protect against UVB, and at least four-star UVA protection.

It’s not. Even if it says once-a-day on the label, all sunscreens should be re-applied regularly. Some products rub, wash or sweat off more easily than others. But it’s also really easy to miss bits of your body so don’t be shy with it, put plenty on. The best way to use sunscreen is to think of it as the last line of defence for the parts of your body you can’t cover up with clothes.

Most sunscreens have an expiry date on them. Look out for a small open jar icon on the bottle with the number of months the product can be used after opening. Like most cosmetics, sunscreens should be stored in a cool place and not in direct sunlight.

You don’t need to worry about the cost of replacing expensive sunscreens though; when it comes to protection, price doesn’t matter, it’s the SPF and star rating that does.

This myth is a persistent one. But the evidence is clear; sunbeds cause skin cancer and there’s no such thing as a safe tan. A tan is a sign that your body is trying to repair the damage caused by UV rays.

Some people think a pre-holiday tan or sunbed tans will protect them from burning, but a tan offers very little protection against the sun. Some studies have found that tans only offer protection equivalent to using factor 3 sunscreen. And tans from sunbeds could be as low as SPF 1.

Data sources: CRUK.