It is a health message that’s hard to ignore – sun cream is vital in protecting yourself from skin cancer.
But when it comes to a deeper understanding of when, how and what sunscreen to apply we are often left lacking.
A recent survey by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society revealed a quarter of people did not know what the SPF rating displayed on each bottle stands for.
It prompted calls for clearer labelling, amid fears people do not understand the protection products offer.
And the confusion does not end there.
Myths permeate, with common assertions like ‘I won’t get a tan while wearing sun cream’, ‘you get what you pay for with sunscreen’, and ‘I can lie in the sun all day if I wear SPF 30’, adding to people’s misunderstanding.
Here, experts including Dr Noor Almaani, consultant dermatologist at The Private Clinic in Harley Street help separate sun cream fact from fiction…
MYTH – Cloud protect you from the sun’s harmful rays
It is a mistake millions are guilty of making – ditching the sun cream when the clouds draw in.
The myth goes that clouds offer protection against the sun’s harmful rays.
But, clearing up any speculation, consultant dermatologist, Dr. Almaani told MailOnline the idea simply is not true.
She said: ‘UV rays have the same intensity during daylight hours the whole year round, it is not weather or season dependent.
‘They can seep through clouds so even on overcast days, when it’s grey and miserable, it’s important to wear SPF.’
MYTH – Products with the same SPF offer the same protection
SPF levels only indicate the protection a sun cream offers against UVB rays, not UVA rays.
But, both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin damage and cancer.
A separate star rating usually indicates the protection a cream will offer against UVA rays.
Dr Almaani told MailOnline: ‘UVA forms the majority of UV light and contributes to skin ageing and the development of skin cancer, as it penetrates deeper into the skin.
‘It has a consistent intensity throughout the day, all year round and can penetrate through cloud and glass.
‘UVB is more intense and leads to the redness and sunburn that is indicative of some degree of DNA damage which in turn can potentially lead to genetic mutations and skin cancers.
‘It is important to note that SPF in sunscreens refers to UVB protection whereas the star system refers to UVA protection.
‘For the best protection you should Ideally use SPF greater than 35 for UVB and five stars for UVA.’
MYTH – Expensive sun cream offers more protection
The assumption that the more you pay for a sun cream the more protection it offers couldn’t be further from the truth, experts agree.
Which? recently tested a series of sun creams, and found Piz Buin, Malibu and Hawaiian Tropic failed to meet expected standards.
MYTH – You can’t catch the sun through the car window
A common misconception when it comes to the sun’s rays, is the idea that you can’t catch a tan through glass.
Many drivers across the world think their car windscreen will protect their skin.
But, Dr Almaani said: ‘This is simply not true.
‘As mentioned previously, UVB rays contain healthy vitamin D, however, these rays can’t penetrate glass unlike the more harmful UVA rays.
‘This means, then, that people tend to age more on the side of their bodies that is often exposed to sunlight and the deeper layers of skin are being harmed.
‘So if you sit near a window at work or drive a lot for your job then make sure you’re using lashings of SPF to protect your skin and prevent premature ageing.’
MYTH – Once-a-day sun creams work
It is the stuff of beach-holiday dreams – a sun cream you can apply in the sanctity of your hotel room that will last the whole day.
But, despite various products making the promise, Dr Almaani said holidaymakers should be cautious.
‘For continued sun protection, it is important to reapply sun cream,’ she told MailOnline.
‘This also applies to water-resistant sun cream and the so-called ‘once-a-day’ preparations, as their efficacy will depend on whether the right amount is applied, to give the protection specified on the bottle.
‘Also sunscreens, particularly chemical absorbers, degrade gradually on sun-exposure with reduced effect and this applies to ‘once daily’ applications.
‘In addition, water contact, sweating and rubbing will render the cream less effective and therefore ‘long-wear’ sunscreens can give a false sense of adequate protection with less careful sun protection practices.’
How to decode the detail on a bottle of sun cream…
Sunlight contains a spectrum of wavelengths, including visible and invisible light.
Ultraviolet light forms part of the invisible spectrum of which, UVA and UVB reach the earth surface.
UVA forms the majority of UV light and contributes to skin ageing and the development of skin cancer as it penetrates deeper into the skin (the main UV rays emitted by sunbeds).
It has a consistent intensity throughout the day, all year round and can penetrate through cloud and glass.
UVB is more intense and leads to the redness and sunburn that is indicative of some degree of DNA damage which in turn can potentially lead to genetic mutations and skin cancers.
Its highest intensity is between 10am and 4pm from April to October.
Dr Almaani said: ‘UV light also reduces the immunity in the skin and this can explain why for example some are prone to getting cold sores on sun exposure.’
Here, she helps decode the symbols on your sun cream bottle:
SPF in sunscreens refers to UVB protection – greater than factor 35 is best
The star system on some products refers to UVA protection – five stars is best
As well as the familiar symbols adorning a bottle of sun cream, there are a range of ingredients that more often than not, mean nothing to the lay person.
Dr Almaani said suncreams are broadly classified into chemical absorbers that absorb UVA and UVB radiation and physical blockers that reflect and scatter the rays.
‘Physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide offer better protection against UV radiation,’ she said.
‘In addition they are less likely to cause skin allergies and do not degrade on exposure to light unlike many chemical absorbers.
‘However they have a less cosmetically appealing appearance in view of thick and white formulation.’
With the right application, Dr Almaani said sun creams offer good UVB protection, with SPF 15 protecting against around 94 per cent of UVB and SPF 30 against almost 97 per cent of UVB.
She said proper use remains the most important factor in determining protection.
‘Using the published teaspoon rule, an average of six teaspoons should be sufficient to cover an adult body, half a teaspoon to each arm, head and neck, one teaspoon to each leg, chest and back,’ she revealed.