6 sun protection myths debunked

Want to protect yourself from sun damage this summer? Read on.

By Erin Berryman
Slip, slop, slap - it's been drilled into us since day one but somehow New Zealand still has the highest incidence of melanoma skin cancer in the world - 4000 Kiwis diagnosed each year to be exact!
With summer well and truly here, we thought it was time we called in the experts to shed some light on longstanding sun safety myths.

Sunblock vs. Sunscreen

The best line of defense against skin cancer, without avoiding exposure all together, is undoubtedly sunscreen or sunblock. While the terms seem interchangeable, there is actually a difference.
According to Dr Maria Reeves, founder of skin cancer specialists Claris Group, sunscreen provides chemical protection, while sunblock is a physical barrier.
"Sunblock is like having a concrete wall between you and the sun," she adds. "Whereas sunscreens create a chemical barrier more like a window screen, which absorbs UV radiation before it reaches the dermal layer of your skin."
Sunblock tends to remain visible when applied and is a thicker consistency that is harder to wash off, while sunscreen is generally transparent and invisible.

What is SPF?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is a relative measure of how long sunscreen will protect you from ultraviolet radiation.
"Outside Australasia the calculate time before we burn is 20 minutes, while inside Australasia it's seven minutes," says Dr Reeves.
For example:
SPF 15 means 15 x seven minutes = 105 minutes of protection.
In short, the higher the SPF the longer protection we have.
"The reason it's recommended you re-apply every two hours is because people are known to not apply it properly, or they rub, sweat or swim it off - and some people burn easier than others."
Try: Le Tan SPF30 Coconut Sunscreen Spray $23.99 or Clinique SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen Lotion for Body $52

Debunking the myths

1) Sun protection will inhibit adequate vitamin D absorption
False. While we do need vitamin D, it only takes a small amount of sun exposure to get a sufficient amount, which is achievable for most with sun protection. You can also get your recommended dose through diet and supplements.
2) Anything above SPF15 is a waste
False. Although the merits of SPF above 50 are widely debated, experts agree a minimum of SPF30 should always be applied before sun exposure. Apply at least 20 minutes before heading outside, re-apply every two hours and always adhere to the seven teaspoon rule. The teaspoon rule is a teaspoon of lotion per limb, front and back of body, and one for the face/neck/ears.
3) My BB cream contains SPF so I don't need to use additional sun protection
False. Most BB creams only contain up to SPF15, which is not enough protection. "While some SPF is better than none, make-up with SPF is only acceptable for very short periods of exposure," advises Dr Reeves. "Apply your moisturiser first, then sunscreen, then your make-up in order to ensure full protection."
4) If I use waterproof or sweatproof formulas I don't need to re-apply
False. 'Waterproof' can no longer be used as a claim under New Zealand's sunscreen standards, as no product can be completely waterproof. However, a water resistance claim on packaging means that sunscreen should retain its full SPF protection after two hours in the water, although every activity is different and results may vary.
Try: Surf Life Saving SPF50+ $12.99, Bondi Sands Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+ $22.99 or SunSense Sport SPF 50+ $17.99
5) You can't burn outside of peak sun hours
False. Dermatologists are unanimous that this is a very common and dangerous misconception. The probability of burning is definitely worse when the sun is directly overhead, from about 10am to 4pm, but tanning at any time of day is unsafe.
6) I have dark skin so I don't need sunscreen
False. Although those with fairer skin are most at risk of sunburn, everyone regardless of race or ethnicity, is subject to sun damage. While darker skins may not show visible signs of damage such as sunburn, it doesn't mean the rays aren't harming the skin and increasing the risk of skin cancer.