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26th July 2017

Common Sun Care Myths – Debunked

Even though we are becoming more educated as a society about how to take care of ourselves in the sun, there are plenty of sun care rumours that still haven’t made their way out of the national psyche.

If you’ve ever been guilty of telling someone that they look healthy with their holiday tan or been on the receiving end of a rant about sunscreen giving you rickets, then you’ve experienced the effects of these sun care myths first hand.

Here at SunSense we care about you and your family being able to have fun in the sun without having to worry about whether you’re protected from the potentially damaging effects of sun exposure[1]. For you to do that, you need have all the facts about sun care and to be able to separate the facts from the fiction.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to some common sun care myths and the science behind why they’re not true!

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Myth: Sunscreen Stops You Getting Enough Vitamin D

Many people are aware that the best way to protect your skin from the potentially harmful effects of the sun is to wear sunscreen on exposed skin every day. People who argue against wearing sunscreen everyday sometimes cite vitamin D deficiency among their reasons for not creaming up before they leave the house. But, is it true that we’re all going to return to the bad old days of widespread instances of rickets if we wear sunscreen on a daily basis? The short answer is: no.

Whilst it is true that vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to UVB rays, all of these rays are not absorbed by sunscreen[2]. It takes only a short amount of time for the skin to reach saturation point, where no more vitamin D is made from exposure to sunlight. This means that those who regularly wear sunscreen still get sufficient sunlight exposure to produce the vitamin D their body needs, whilst also protecting their skin from the harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays[3].

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Myth: Once-A-Day Sunscreens Don’t Need to Be Reapplied

Reapplying sunscreen can be a pain, especially if you’re out and about with a wriggly child or two in tow. This might tempt you to buy a one-a-day sunscreen, which seems to promise that you can put sunscreen on the whole family before you leave the house and they’ll be protected all day long. Is once-a-day sunscreen an effective solution when it comes to sun protection? No, it is not.

An independent study found that the average once-a-day sunscreen SPF decreased by 74% over the course of six to eight hours[4]. This means that you and your family are getting a significantly lower amount of sun protection than is advertised on the bottle. What’s more, activities such as sweating, swimming, rubbing from clothing, towelling dry, exercising, and touching the skin all remove sunscreen. Regardless of SPF or any claims made on the bottle, all sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours to ensure that you are getting the amount of sun protection advertised on the bottle.

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Myth: SPF 50+ Isn’t That Much Better Than SPF 30

Some people believe that after a point, higher SPF sunscreens are no more effective than lower SPFs. You have heard people say that SPF 30 is the maximum SPF possible and anything above that is doesn’t give you much more protection. So, is it true that sunscreens above SPF 30 don’t offer any more protection? No, SPF 50+ gives more protection than SPF 30[5].

Sunscreen works by absorbing the sun’s UV rays so that as little as possible is absorbed by the skins cells. An SPF 30 sunscreen allows 3.33% of UV light to reach the skin cells, whereas SPF 50+ allows just 1.67% of UV light through. Reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches your skin by 50% effectively doubles the amount of time it would take for you get damaged by the sun UV rays[6]. This means than SPF 50+ sunscreen will protect your skin from the sun for longer than a lower SPF sunscreen.

Myth: Getting a Suntan Is Healthy

From bronzed celebrity to highstreets lined with tanning salons, it’s easy to see how the idea that getting a suntan is healthy and attractive has become common. Bright, warm days can make us feel full of energy, but is heading out into the garden with the hopes of getting a suntan healthy? No, tanned skin is not healthy.

Long-term exposure to UV rays can have a variety of negative side effects, including illnesses such as Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma, and melanoma[7]. It is particularly important to bear in mind that indoor tanning is not a safe alternative, as indoor tanning beds can have a UV intensity up to 15 times higher than the midday sun. Using tanning beds can have a detrimental effect on your long term health, with studies finding that tanning bed use before the age of 35 can increase your risk of melanoma by around 40%[8]. Tanning beds are not a safe alternative to sunbathing; there is no healthy way to get a tan.

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Myth: Parabens are Bad for You and Your Skin

Some people are put off wearing sunscreen, or making their children wear it, because it contains parabens. Parabens can be found in many sunscreens and it is sometimes said that they cause allergic reactions and are bad for your skin. So, are the parabens in sunscreen bad for you? Most likely, no.

Although parabens, like many other things that we come in contact with everyday, can cause allergic reactions, it is rare to be allergic to parabens. One study found that out of 2,453 dermatitis patients, not one experienced a hypersensitivity to parabens[9], and other studies have shown that parabens are among the least frequent sensitizers[10].  So, although it is possible that you may have an allergy to parabens, don’t throw your sunscreen out on the assumption that they are the source of your itchy rash.


[1] Cancer Research UK. When do I need to protect myself? [Internet] [updated 2014 Feb 17; cited 2017 July 4]. Available from: UV-the-sun-and-skincancer/when-do-i-need-to-protect-myself/

[2] Bogh MKB, Schmedes AV, Philipsen PA, Thieden E, Wulf HC. Interdependence between body surface area and ultraviolet B dose in vitamin D production: a randomized controlled trial. Br J Dermatol. 2011;164(1): 163-169.

[3] Norval M, Wulf HC. Does chronic sunscreen use reduce vitamin D production to sufficient levels? Br J Dermatol. 2009; 161(4):732-736

[4] Which? Once a day sun creams. [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2017 July 4]. Available from:

[5] EU Commission Recommendation of 22 September 2006 on the efficacy of sunscreen products and the claims made relating thereto, (2006/647/EC

[6] Seite S, Fourtanier A, Moyal D, Young AR. Photodamage to human skin by suberythemal exposure o solar ultravioletadiation can be attenuated by sunscreens: a review. Br J Dermatol. 2010. 163:903-914.

[7] Schulman JM, Fisher DE. Indoor UV tanning and skin cancer: health risks and opportunities. Curr Opin Oncol. 2010; 21(2):144-149.

[8] Boniol M, Autier P, Boyle P, Gandani S. Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systemic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2012; 345:e4757.

[9] 5. Shaughnessy CN, Malajian D, Belsito DV. Cutaneous delayed-type hypersensitivity in patients with atopic dermatitis: reactivity to topical preservatives. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014; 70 (1): 102-107.

[10] Chow ET, Avolio AM, Lee A, Nixon R. Frequency of positive patch test reactions to preservatives: the Australian experience. Australas J Dermatol. 2013; 54: 31-35.



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