1) Why wear sunscreen? A tan is caused by melanin – the dark pigment that gives the skin its natural colour. After our skin has been exposed to sunshine it produces more melanin in an attempt to absorb further UV radiation, and so the skin becomes darker. A tan is actually a sign that the skin has been damaged and is trying to protect itself.

2) Doesn’t sunlight give us vitamin D? Some sunshine helps our bodies to create vitamins and there is good evidence that this helps to keep bones healthy. It has also been suggested that vitamin D may help to prevent serious diseases such as cancer, arthritis and some auto-immune diseases.

3) So what’s the problem? The most serious problem is skin cancer. Other issues include sunburn and photosensitive rashes. Staying in the sun too long can also lead to wrinkles, brown spots and other signs of aging.

4) Is sunscreen my only option? No. Cover up. Wearing clothes is by far the best form of sun protection. T-shirts and large hats can reduce your risk by 27%. Staying in the shade (especially important for children) also reduces the risk of burning by 30% and sunglasses are essential, protecting your eyes from UV radiation.

5) UV radiation – what does that mean? The sun’s rays are transmitted in three wavelengths: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC does not penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, so we only really need to worry about UVA and UVB.


6) What are they? UVA is the one linked to skin ageing. It causes coarse wrinkles, leathery skin and brown pigmentation as well as skin cancer. It can get through glass – so you are not necessarily safe indoors or in your car. UVB is responsible for sunburn and has strong links to malignant melanoma.

7) What do SPF and UVA mean? All UK sun creams are labelled with an SPF which stands for sun protection factor; although it would better be described as a sunburn protection factor, as it mainly shows the level of protection against UVB, not UVA. SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 – 50+ The British Association of Dermatologists recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 as a satisfactory form of sun protection. The UVA star rating on the bottle ranges from 0 to 5 and shows the ratio between the level of protection afforded by the UVA protection and the UVB protection. A UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars is a good protection.

8) How often do I have to apply sunscreen? When sun protection products are tested they are applied generously and regularly and if we don’t do the same, then we won’t be protected! We usually put it on too thinly, not often enough and tend to miss bits! Swimming, sweating and towel drying can also leave us exposed. Marketing claims, like “waterproof” and “sweat proof” are not necessarily true.

9) Is a really high SPF the best way to go? The FDA calls these products “inherently misleading.” Consumers mistakenly assume that bigger numbers are better and this may lead them to spend too much time in the sun. There is no point in a SPF higher than 50 and most of Europe has capped SPF values at 50+. But elsewhere (e.g. in the USA) there are products advertised as SPF 100 or even higher!

10) OK, so I smother myself in factor 30 and I’m good to go, right? There is little scientific evidence to suggest that sunscreen alone reduces cancer risk, particularly for melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Despite a growing awareness of the dangers of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, and a multi-billion-dollar sunscreen industry; melanoma rates have tripled over the past three decades.