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6 Sun Protection Myths you may be buying into

Two days a week, I work in a dedicated role doing skin cancer checks including skin cancer surgery. Over the years, I've learned about the various sun protection myths that people may hear from Internet or other anecdotal sources.

On a regular basis, as part of my job, I ask about occupation, sun exposure and lifestyle and it continues to baffle me how, in spite of the campaigns by agencies such as the Cancer Council, most of us buy into many of the myths around sunscreen use and sun protection, so I am hoping to address some of them here. 

Myth #1 - Sunscreen is only needed when “going out”.

When I first began this work, I was stumped when people said they only used sunscreen when “going out”, or “I don’t go out at all”. I had visions of people working underground all day; commuting to and from work, school and more via a tunnel and essentially living like vampires who would combust spontaneously if exposed to any sunlight at all. 

On closer questioning it became apparent to me that many of us, if not most, see “going out” as engaging in outdoor sports, going away on holiday to a tropical location or sunbathing at the beach. 

On an average day:

- if we work from home and are surrounded by natural sunlight;

- if we commute to work even if work is a 5 minute walk or drive from home;

- if we walk the kids to and from school;

- if we go out to get a coffee;

- if we walk out to check the mailbox (and might say hello to the neighbour);

- if we take the washing out and then bring it in again.

These examples of  5-10 minute exposure times, whether it is at 7am, 10am, 2pm or 4pm contribute to what I refer to as incidental sun exposure - what you get on a day to day basis, while not intending to be exposed. Over 365 days, that adds up to hours of sun damage via UVA, even if you never burn and avoid most of the UVB, which is the UV we are warned against during peak hours of the day to avoid burning. 



For that reason, organisations like the Cancer Council and doctors recommend daily sunscreen, preferably at least SPF 30+, regardless of what the day holds.

Quick Tip - most of us would not dream of leaving the house without brushing our teeth, so place your tube of sunscreen next to your toothpaste and slather it on after brushing your teeth till it is a formed habit!

Myth #2 -You do not need sunscreen in winter, or on less sunny or cloudy days.

In a country such as Australia, in most states, we get plenty of sunshine year around, and the UV index is rarely below 3. The Cancer Council states that everyone should be wearing sunscreen daily on any day when the UV index is expected to be at 3 or above.

For most of Australia, especially the more northern states, this would be most days of the year, regardless of weather.

Also in this sunburnt land, even when it rains, it is a rare day that we would have rain lasting for hours or days, with the sun peeking through at some stage.

Quick Tip - Unless you are allergic to an ingredient in sunscreen, it is best, much like brushing your teeth, to establish the habit of wearing SPF 30-50+ daily before leaving the home and reapplying through the day.


Myth #3- Some sun exposure is needed to produce Vit D for your bone health.

The sun’s UV radiation is at once both the major cause of skin cancers and the best source of Vitamin D. At the same time, in a country such as Australia we need to balance the risk of skin cancer from too much exposure and making enough Vit D.

The truth is, most people, while attempting sensible sun protection, will still get some unintended UV exposure - even people who have an established habit of wearing sunscreen daily, do not regularly wear it twice, much less reapply every 2 hours - this has the potential to leave gaps in the hottest parts of each day where we have unintended sun exposure that is sufficient to stimulate enough of our own Vit D production. It may also be beneficial to talk to your doctor about whether a Vit D supplement may be helpful for you.

Quick Tip - the more fair skinned you are, the more easily you can get enough UVB exposure to maintain your Vit D leaves- in summer, incidental sun exposure is usually sufficient and in colder months for those of us in the Southern parts of Australia, brief outdoor periods with some skin exposed suffices. Darker skinned people’s pigment reduces UV penetration so they are at higher risk of Vit D deficiency compared to fairer skinned people.

Myth #4 - There is SPF in my makeup that suffices for my needs.

Tinted creams and foundation with SPF in them are not usually designed to be used as standalone SPF. The Cancer Council recommends 3-5mls of SPF 30+ to be used to the face/ ears/ neck and reapplied ideally every two hours.

In reality if we were to use 5mls of tinted creams or foundation, it would likely appear caked on and clownish in order to provide enough sun protection.

As such, the general advice stands that it is far better to apply a standalone sunscreen in the morning before leaving home, 5mls as directed, and then reapply tinted formulations in smaller quantities throughout the day, especially if over makeup, to continue to add some cover as any sunscreen used (yes, even SPF50+) is only fully effective for 2 hours and then efficacy wanes. 

Quick Tip - If you wear makeup, applying a decent layer in the morning under your makeup is best, followed by either a tinted formulation over makeup or a mineral powder with SPF throughout the day to top up SPF as needed.

Myth #5 - You need not worry about sun damage if you tan easily.

In many ways, those of us who burn have it easier (in theory) than those of us who tan. Those of us who tan, who get comments about how healthy they look, and who rarely burn, have more of a motivation to continue to get sun exposure as the positive reinforcement can be addictive. Looking pasty white vs golden? Tough decision! 



There is a misplaced belief in our society that a tan is a good thing. Most of my patients are surprised when I tell them that ANY degree of tanning is indicative of sun damage, because the tan itself, is an indication of the stress response of your pigment producing cells, the melanocytes, to sun exposure.

Therefore NO degree of sun exposure is good exposure and in clinic, where people are routinely naked down to their underwear, I often hold a mirror up to show them their areas of sun damage, seen as an obvious tan/ colour difference - typically scalp (if thin hair/ bald), face and ears, neck, décolleté and back of the neck as well as limbs where clothing does not cover skin.

Over decades of exposure, even if you never burn, this will lead to poorer quality skin due to chronic UV damage, lines and wrinkles and possibly, skin cancers.

Quick Tip - spray tans are a much safer option as there is no amount of sun exposure that is considered safe or beneficial for your skin.


Myth #6 - Sunscreen does not go off.

Sunscreens do go off over time and using old or expired sunscreen can lead to sunburn, risk of skin cancer and skin reactions. Sunscreens become unstable over time so don’t be fooled into using expired sunscreen as all that may be left is some moisturiser with none of the sun protective qualities- sunscreens are required by law to be effective for 3 years from the date of manufacture, after which they are best discarded.

As a guide, choose a sunscreen that you like the feel of, can afford and will wear daily as a tube of 75ml should last you no more than 10-14 days. If a tube is lasting you longer than this, you are not using enough. 


Quick Tip - always carry a tube of sunscreen 30+ in your bag so you can reapply on the go as often as possible, but be mindful that is not a good idea to leave it in the car as the heat can shorten its shelf life and efficacy.

In summary, establishing a solid SPF strategy, using enough of it and getting into the habit of using it daily and complementing it with a sunhat, sunglasses, protective clothing and seeking shade are the best tools for not only avoiding skin cancer risk, but also maintaining your skin’s collagen, avoiding wrinkles and UV related sun damage, and this is THE basis of effective anti-ageing skincare.






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