Sun myths exposed… when and how sunburn can strike without you knowing

It’s time to look forward to hot summer holidays and heatwaves at home, but are you at risk of inadvertently falling victim to the sun’s rays?

Are you safe in a car, or will a t-shirt protect your from harmful UV rays? Or what about cloudy days and wearing sunglasses?

We bust the myths and search out the truth when it comes to staying safe in the sun…

Wearing a tee-shirt will protect me or my child, right?

Wearing a top doesn't mean we don't need sun cream

Wearing a top doesn’t mean we don’t need sun cream – the fact that light can be seen through the fabric means harmful UV rays can also get through to her skin

It’s the default option for caring parents or for ourselves when the shoulders start to smoulder… so this must be safe?

SOMETIMES FALSE: It’s hard to believe, but research shows it’s not always the case that covering up with clothing will halt harmful rays.

Studies have found that a white t-shirt has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating of 7, but this drops to around 3 when the garment is wet. Darker clothing with a tight weave to the material will offer stronger protection. The more worn and stretched a piece of clothing is will mean its SPF is also diminished.

If you hold a piece of clothing up to the sun and can see light through the material, it’s likely that harmful UV rays can also penetrate it, according to Martin Weinstock, M.D., chairman of the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Skin Cancer Advisory Group, in an article on CNN.

So… This means an old t-shirt used to protect a child on a beach, could be offering just 6 per cent of the protection a recommended 50 SPF lotion would  – making it essential that a suitable lotion should always be applied – regardless of whether a shirt is being worn.

You can also check clothing for an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating, which indicates how much protection the garment offers.

Here are how the UPF ratings work.

UPF Rating Protection Category % UV rays blocked
15, 20 Good 93.3-95.9
25, 30, 35 Very Good 96-97.4
40, 45, 50, 50+ Excellent 97.5 or higher

Car windows protect me from sunburn

Are you safe from the sun in your motor?

Are you safe from the sun in your motor?

Claim: Many of us believe that driving a car or sitting next to a window at the office will not leave us at risk from the sun’s rays.

FALSE: Glass protects from UVB rays, but no the UVA variety – and these are the ones that penetrate deep into the skin leaving us at risk from premature skin aging, wrinkling and suppression of the immune system.

Make sure you apply sun lotion when driving or sitting next to a window in the office etc. Pay special attention to hands, forearms and your face during summer months.

It is worth remembering that tinted car windows won’t guarantee that rays are prevented from making their way into your vehicle. A study in the US found that side windows on cars blocked just 44–96 per cent of rays, while this figure was 95-98 per cent for windscreens.

Studies in the US have also revealed a large increase in the amount of skin cancers on the left side of drivers – the side Americans drive on.

So… Make sure you apply sun cream when driving or when sitting next to any window for long periods of time in spring or summer months.

Water – in swimming pools and the sea – protects me from harmful rays

Will water protect me from the sun?

Will water protect me from the sun?

Claim: When the heat is on, many of us jump in the pool or surf to cool down and hide from the harmful rays, but is this really helping protect our skin?

FALSE: Water offers minimal protection against harmful rays. The water can sometimes reflect harmful rays directly onto our face and other exposed areas of skin.

Research also reveals that at half a metre under the surface, your body is exposed to radiation levels at 40 per cent of those above the water line.

The water will also have a cooling effect on the body – masking the tell-tale signs that we’re slowly cooking. There’s also the double-whammy that sun screen could be washed off when in the wet stuff.

So… Make sure you buy good quality waterproof sun cream and apply plenty of it on a regular basis. Wearing sunglasses or tinted goggles will help protect eyes from the risk of cataracts and other UV-related ills.

I can’t get sunburn in cloudy weather, so I don’t need sun cream

Is it time to skip the cream and let the clouds filter out the rays?

Is it time to skip the cream and let the clouds filter out the rays?

If the weather is cloudy and there’s no sun to be seen, it must be the case we don’t need to wear protection, right?

MOSTLY FALSE: This depends on the type of cloud cover! Thick, widespread cloud cover will most likely prevent most UV rays reaching your skin, but thin clouds can let up to 80 per cent of harmful rays hit our exposed dermis.

Additionally, research has found that any breaks in the cloud cover can lead to the UV rays reflecting on the edge of clouds and intensifying the amount of radiation we’re exposed to.

So… In spring and summer months, it’s sensible to apply protection to exposed areas of skin – whatever the cloud cover. Remember ears and hands – as they’re directly in the firing line.

I’m on the plane and have my sun cream ready for when I arrive

Surely you you don't need to slather on the cream here?

Surely you you don’t need to slather on the cream here?

Stepping off a plane onto the tarmac of a hot foreign airport means it’s smart to have sun screen packed in the hand luggage, right?

TRUE – BUT… It’s always smart to have sun cream handy, but the fact is you could well have left it too late.

Remember, when travelling on a passenger jet, you’ll spend many hours around seven miles above the Earth’s surface, where thinner air offers less protection against harmful rays.

Speaking to the Sun, Dr Sweta Rai of the British Association of Dermatologists said: “The window next to you on a plane may be small, but you’re closer to the ozone layer on a flight by tens of thousands of feet.

“The sun’s rays are much more harmful at this level and we should all be wearing sun scream when flying.”

So… It’s simple – if you’re on a plane and sitting next to a window, or anywhere near one, make sure you slather on the cream and get that tan going early… without the burn.

The sun’s rays can damage eyes – but I wear sunglasses, so I’m safe.

Are all sunglasses born equal?

Are all sunglasses born equal?

Sunglasses ease the glare on our eyes, so they must be offering protecting from dangerous rays.

TRUE AND FALSE: While some shades will protect our eyes from damage, not all sunglasses are created equal.

While some will offer full protection, others could provide no defence whatsoever. Harmful rays can cause sunburn on the eyes – known as photokeratitis – and promote the growth of cataracts

So… make sure the sunglasses you’re about to buy have a UV protection rating between 1-4 printed on them or on the label. It’s best to buy your eyewear before you leave, because cheap, and possibly counterfeit, glasses purchased at holiday destinations might not measure up.

Here’s what the 1 – 4 categories mean.

Lens category 0: Fashion spectacles

These are not sunglasses and have a very low ability to reduce sun glare. They provide limited UV protection.

Lens category 1: Fashion spectacles

Like category 0 lenses, these aren’t sunglasses, but they do provide a limited amount of sun glare reduction and UV protection. Fashion spectacles with category 1 lenses are not suitable for driving at night.

Lens category 2: Sunglasses

These sunglasses provide a medium level of sun glare reduction and a good UV protection. Not suitable for night driving.

Lens category 3: Sunglasses

Like category 2, these sunglasses provide a good level of UV protection. Lens category 3 glasses also provide a high level of sun glare reduction. Not suitable for night driving.

Lens category 4: Sunglasses

These are sunglasses that provide a very high level of sun glare reduction and good UV protection – usually designed for specific activities such as skiing or beach use. These should never be used for driving at any time of day.

It’s also worth noting that some sunglasses are not to be worn when driving – find out more here.

Are you putting on enough sun cream?

Here's how much sunscreen you need to apply to stay safe in the sun

Here’s how much sunscreen you need to apply to stay safe in the sun

Research has found that Brits under-apply their sun cream. Click here for a simple guide to getting it right.


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