We’re in for one of the hottest summers in recent years, which means that you’re gonna have to be smarter about your time in the super hot sun.
Aussies live on a (mostly) sunny continent with dodgy ozone protection, so many of us can be a bit cocky when it comes to slip slopping and slapping – “Oh, I know how to tan without burning. I’ve got it down,”
We’re all familiar with the iconic tagline “tanning is skin cells in trauma” from those ads that aired 24/7 in the early 2000s, but it doesn’t mean we actually put the advice into practice. There are a tonne of myths about sun protection that are totally false but totally believed. Knowing that Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with more than 2,200 Australian deaths in 2013, it’s clear that something’s gotta give.
Techly is dispelling the most common (and most harmful) myths, in the hope that this summer will be as healthy as it will be hot.
– And for those who have forgotten the iconic ad, here’s a quick refresher –
Myth 1: You can’t burn on a cloudy day
I’m speaking from experience here, but you can definitely get sunburnt in situations that aren’t sunny. I’ve gotten burnt in the mountains on a foggy day. I didn’t think to wear sunscreen because…well, why would you wear sunscreen on a foggy day, away from a beach?
Sadly, I had to learn the hard way that the only time that you definitely can’t get burnt is probably at midnight. In your bed. With the curtains drawn.
UVA and UVB rays are responsible for burning your skin, and these rays aren’t blocked by clouds, or smog, or glass. In fact, clouds are thought to let UV rays directly through.
There’s a UV index which measures how many UV rays are coming down to Earth, on a scale of 1 to 20. Number 3 on the scale is considered harmful, and is where people begin to burn. On cloudy days with no sunscreen applied, the UV level could be well over 3. You can almost hear the skin sizzling already.
“UV is affected by many things. One of those is cloud, but it depends upon what type of cloud it is, the thickness of the cloud and whether it is deep right through the atmosphere…you get a mirror effect and the UV can bounce off the clouds and focus on the ground. You can get quite high UV levels at the ground during partly cloudy days when there are breaks in the cloud,
You have to be very, very careful on those sorts of days not to assume you won’t get those sorts of extreme levels.”
Myth 2: People with darker skin don’t need to be vigilant
I’ve heard this one a thousand times, in addition to the myth that a ‘base tan’ means that the sun won’t affect you as negatively as it would affect untanned skin.
Just take a second to think about that. It’s absolutely ridiculous logic.
Any exposure to UV rays will cause damage, to your eyes, DNA, and the skin. Even if you normally take longer to burn, or if you tan easily, you should still wear sunscreen. It’s really important for people to be aware of their skin type. If you are a skin type 3 or above, you still need to cover up, despite being less susceptible to skin cancer as types 1 and 2.
Some people are worried that less time in the sun means missing out on Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can result in bone and muscle weakness and extreme fatigue, but the answer isn’t to sit outside for 3 hours every day in order to get your daily dose. For fair-skinned people, incidental exposure (walking to and from work), is just enough. But for people with naturally dark skin, a trip to the doc for supplements might be the go.
Myth 3: The higher the SPF, the better
When it comes to sunscreen, more is more is more.
Some people believe that an SPF of 90+ (yes, such a thing actually exists) is three times better than SPF 30+. Logically, that kinda makes sense. Realistically, though, it’s a total fantasy.
Let’s start with what ‘SPF’ actually is.
‘SPF’ stands for ‘Sun Protection Factor’, and is a measure of how much protection the sunscreen offers from UVB rays. It’s generally advisable that any sunscreen is reapplied every 2 hours, as no SPF can possibly offer 100% protection.
And there’s no ridiculous difference between SPF 15, for example, and SPF 30. As Dr Wang of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre explains, “An SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93 percent of UVB radiation, while an SPF 30 sunscreen blocks nearly 97 percent,”.
In fact, the high SPFs on sunscreen labels, like 85 or 100+ might just be a very efficient marketing technique which reinforce the myth that a higher means better protection.
U.S. dermatologist James M. Spencer smashed the myth when he said, “The best way make sure you are protected is to reapply sunscreen often,” Spencer says. “You just can’t put it on in the morning and forget about it. I don’t care if it’s SPF 800 or the best UVA protection, after a few hours it’s gone.”
The Cancer Institute recommends that a 30+ SPF sunscreen be applied 20 minutes before you go out, and reapplied every 2 hours. It’s also important to use the correct amount of sunscreen – aim for a 20 cent piece over each limb/body area or a shot glass over the whole body.
Educate yourself to protect your skin, which is more precious than you realise. For more information about sun protection, check out Your Time In The Sun