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Think dark skin doesn’t need sunscreen, or that water protects you? Read on…
fter months of rubbish weather, it’s no wonder most of us get so excited at the first glimpse of sun that we head straight to the park to peel off the layers and… bake. But, worryingly, the thrill of basking in warm rays tends to override concerns about our skin health – a survey by the British Association of Dermatologists reveals that 72% of us have had sunburn in the past year. And a Nivea study suggests only 30% of us would definitely use protection when enjoying the sun in the UK. As skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK, it’s time to wise up. We asked the experts to bust the myths that are putting our health at risk.
NO, IT’S NOT. While official statistics show that people with black or Asian skin types are less likely to develop skin cancer, the level of risk is reduced, rather than removed altogether. ‘Whatever the colour of your skin, the sun’s rays will still damage its cells,’ explains Boots suncare expert Clare O’Connor. ‘And while the likelihood of malignant melanoma is lower among darker skin types, it does still occur,’ she says. ‘Dark skins can also be affected by sun-induced premature ageing, such as wrinkles and dark pigmentation spots. ‘And when regular holiday-makers argue that a “base tan” offers some level of sun protection, it’s simply not true,’ continues Clare. ‘In fact, this change in skin colour is evidence that cell damage has already occurred, and you’re making it worse the more you expose your skin to the sun.’
NO, YOU WON’T. Vitamin D is important – among other things, it supports the immune system and contributes to calcium absorption. But baking in the sun is not the way to up your levels. ‘Protecting skin from damage should be the top priority – the health impact of that is far greater than bumping up your vitamin D a little,’ says Clare. After all, new studies show that vitamin D can be absorbed even while wearing sunscreen, and you only need brief exposure to the sun, such as a 15-minute walk, to boost daily levels.
Tweaking your diet can also help. Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington suggests upping your intake of sources such as oily fish, butter, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals. ‘Certain groups of people are also at risk of not getting enough vitamin D, and may need to take a daily supplement,’ she adds*.
Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK, so it’s time to wise up
NOT TRUE. Extended exposure to UV rays has been linked to eye damage, including macular degeneration and cataracts, but while channelling Audrey Hepburn in dark shades might make you look chic, your eyes won’t necessarily be better protected than if you were wearing lighter lenses. ‘The depth of colour of the lens has very little to do with its UV protection: clear lenses with a UV block offer more protection than “fashion” sunglasses with a dark lens but poor UV protection,’ explains Boots optometrist Russell Peake. In fact, dark lenses can let in more harmful UV light, because they make the pupils dilate. Russell’s advice? Check out the range of Boots Opticians sunglasses, all of which offer 100% UVA and UVB protection.
YES, YOU DO. While many of us believe that spending time in the pool or sea offers a welcome barrier to the sun, the opposite is true. ‘Water allows UV light to penetrate, so not only are you just as vulnerable as you would be on the shore, but it also scatters and reflects the light, which can make those rays more intense,’ explains Clare. ‘Sunscreen is a must and you need to reapply it regularly, as the water washes some of it off, and towel-drying removes even more.’
YES, BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. Everyone should wear a suncream with high SPF when out in the sun (plus a wide-brimmed hat, of course). ‘Children and those with fairer skin should go for SPF50+,’ says Clare. However, sun protection involves more than this. ‘SPF is a marker of protection against sunburn, but you need to guard against UVA rays, too, which penetrate deeper into the skin,’ she adds. ‘Look for a five-star UVA rating, so you know you’re protected against burning and longer-term cell damage.’ Then stay in the shade between 11am and 3pm, keep babies under six months out of direct sunlight, and cover kids in loose cotton clothes.
Finally, it’s important not to skimp when you’re applying your sunscreen. ‘Around three tablespoons of product is enough to cover your whole body,’ Clare explains. Don’t forget to reapply regularly, too.
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*The Department of Health recommends the following groups take a daily supplement of vitamin D: pregnant and breastfeeding women; over 65s; people with low exposure to sun (due to covering skin/being housebound); people with darker skin. Plus, children aged 6 months to 5 years should take a daily supplement of vitamin D in the form of drops.
Words Victoria Joy Hair and make-up Lisa Valencia at Carol Hayes Styling Donna Francis Models Portia at MOT and Hannah at Next Still-life photography Pixeleyes With thanks to Beaches Ocho Rios Resort, Jamaica