“I Can’t Get Sunburn on a Cloudy Day” And Other Common SPF Myths, Debunked

Do you wear sunscreen? Well, you live in the UK, so you don’t need to unless you’re going on holiday, right? And, anyway, your foundation is SPF 15, so you’re sorted. 

Wrong and wrong. If sunscreen isn’t a regular part of your skincare routine (and by regular, we mean every single day) you’re not alone. According to recent statistics from a YouGov survey, 25% of Brits don’t use sunscreen and, of those that do, 51% could be unprotected when using expired products. 

We know understanding SPF is a bit of a minefield – and that’s before you’ve found one that isn’t greasy, doesn’t cause breakouts and sits nicely under your make-up. But it’s time to stop making excuses. May is Skin Cancer Awareness month, so, if you’re not already serious about incorporating SPF into your skincare routine, now’s the time to start. A staggering 86% of skin cancer cases are deemed preventable.

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First, let’s kick off with some SPF basics. Here’s what you need to know:

  • SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor 

  • UVB are rays that hit the top layer of skin. These are responsible for tanning, burning and skin damage. UVA are rays that penetrate deep into the skin – these cause cell damage and premature skin ageing. A quick way to remember the difference between the two? UVB = Burning. UVA = Ageing.

  • Broad Spectrum refers to products that protect against both of the above

  • Cancer Research UK recommends wearing a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 (to give UVB protection) with a high star rating of 4+ stars (to give UVA protection)

To help you get serious about sun protection,  we’ve turned to two SPF evangelists: Hannah English, an Australian drug-research scientist with an Instagram account dedicated to incorporating sunscreen into beauty routines (find her at @ms_hannah_e) and medical aesthetician, skin specialist and founder of bea Skin Care, Bianca Estelle

Let the myth-busting commence…

Myth 1: “I can’t get sunburn on a cloudy day”

While UV exposure is much higher on a sunny day, it doesn’t mean to say that it does not exist when it’s overcast. Up to 80% of UV rays can pass through clouds, so you can still get sunburn on overcast days if you spend time outside with no sun protection. 

Bianca says, “Regardless of whether you’re in tropical climates or the midst of a British winter, harmful UV rays are still hard at work and, without adequate protection (I suggest a minimum of factor 30), you’re at risk of sun damage, increased signs of ageing and most severely, skin cancer.” 

“UV radiation and UV-generated free radicals are the single biggest cause of signs of ageing,” Hannah says, “By which I mean wrinkles, sagging, pigmentation, even loss of volume in the lips!

“This kind of stress makes it harder for skin to bounce back from other ailments, such as acne, sensitivity, pigmentation, and rosacea, so it helps for all skin types, concerns and colours.”

Myth 2: “I’m wearing a high factor SPF, so I’m totally protected.” 

A commonly held belief, but not necessarily a correct one. Both Bianca and Hannah stress the importance of reapplication – whether you’re slathered in factor 50 or spritzed with factor 15.  “It's better to use an SPF 30 daily and regularly top up (every 4 hours or so) than to use a higher factor and apply it just once daily,” Bianca says.  

“Even with waterproof creams, you should always reapply after going in the water as your level of protection won’t be the same.” 

Understanding what a sun protection factor actually means helps to explain why reapplication is so necessary. The number assigned to sun cream actually represents the number of minutes it will take us to burn. So, if you would normally burn in 10 minutes wearing no sunscreen, wearing SPF 15 would, in theory, protect you for 150 minutes. Likewise, if you’d take 60 minutes to burn, wearing factor 50 should give you 300 minutes of protection. 

Myth 3: “Tanning gives the skin sun protection!”

Do not fall prey to this trap. How many of us have deliberately got a little burnt on the first day of our holiday, so we can wear a lower SPF and have it turn to tan for the rest of the week? 

“Repeat after me: a tan is a scar,” says Hannah.

“Your skin creates pigment as a response to damage that’s already happened. The sun’s rays literally hit your DNA and warp it, and that damage can’t ever be undone. Sorry!”

That means no ‘first-day burn’, no tanning oils and definitely, definitely no pre-holiday sunbeds. If you want a golden glow, fake it ‘til you make it. 


Myth 4: “The chemicals in sunscreen are bad for you”

In light of last week’s FDA report, which published findings that chemicals from our sunscreen can enter the blood stream, it’s especially important to debunk this sunscreen myth. While it’s true that things can pass through the skin barrier and enter the bloodstream, this doesn’t mean they are dangerous. 

Sunscreen brand Supergoop responded on Instagram to the scare-mongering in the media, and said, “It’s common knowledge that things you put on your skin can be absorbed into your body…Moreover, just because something is absorbed, it does not mean it is not safe (think about the food you eat for example!)”

Hannah totally agrees, but recommends that if you’re worried, you opt out of chemical sunscreens. “There are heaps of gorgeous mineral sunscreens. I like the Dark Spot Sun Defense SPF 50 from Dr Dennis Gross.”


Myth 5: “I have SPF in my makeup, so I don’t need an extra sunscreen”

This is one of the most pervasive myths around, and it’s unsurprising so many of us have been misled. Everywhere you look, there are foundations with SPF in them, so you’d assume they would live up to their label and provide this level of protection. However, the amount of product you’d actually have to apply to receive the protection necessary is laughable – as evidenced by one of Hannah’s articles (with some great photographic evidence).

“The way sunscreens are tested is by using 2mg/cm squared of product. For face, neck, and ears, this is about half a teaspoon,” explains Hannah. 

“I put a half teaspoon of SPF foundation on my face. It equated to 14 whole pumps of my beloved It Cosmetics CC+! If you want sun protection, don’t rely on your foundation. You need a separate, dedicated sunscreen.”

Now that you’re all clued up, here are some of Hannah, Bianca’s and our We Are Auburn sunscreen recommendations:

NIOD Survival 30

 
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Alpha-H Daily Essential Moisturiser SPF50

 
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Zelens Daily Defence Broad Spectrum SPF30

 
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Coola Cucumber Face SPF30

 
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Bea Skin Care Solar Defence SPF 30/50

 
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Ultrasun Face Anti-Ageing Lotion SPF 50

 
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La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Ultra Light Fluid SPF 50+

 
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