Top 5 sun protection myths busted

In partnership with SA’s top medical aesthetic companies

Another beautiful summer in Africa… Sigh. We are blessed, but we need to show the sun a healthy amount of respect, no matter what our skin tone.

South Africa has one of the sunniest climates in the world, it’s a fact. And while we get to enjoy a gloriously sunny holiday season – at home or on the beach – it’s a guarantee that we are going to be feeling the beautiful warmth of the sun on our skin at some point.

A little sun exposure is not a bad thing – in fact, quite the opposite. We need sunshine to stimulate the production of vitamin D in our bodies, which is vital for many of our systems to function healthily. But the key phrase here is a little. 10 minutes twice a week is all you need to keep topped up.

The shadow side of all this delicious sunshine is that the African sun is very intense, and it’s no coincidence that South African skin shows a lot of sun damage: Freckles, age spots, leathery texture, fine wrinkles, a blotchy complexion and skin cancer (we’re among world leaders for this skin disease – a competition we’d rather not be in, never mind winning). These are only some of the conditions that can be traced to sun exposure. Unfortunately, most of the damage is done before our twenties, when we run around blissfully ignorant of the long-term damage we’re doing to our skin.

Most of the effects mentioned above only start showing up years in our thirties, speeding up as we get in to our forties and fifties.

The point of all we’ve said is that we need to protect ourselves in the sun, and we need to teach our children this lesson from a very early age so that we can enjoy its benefits without all the negative effects.

Sun protection myths

It’s all about the SPF. Er, no it isn’t.

SPF only indicates the level of UVB (the burning ray) protection. UVA rays are much more destructive as they penetrate through glass, and damage the DNA of cells, causing ageing and skin cancer.

The first step to selecting a good sunscreen is to look for one that says it offers broad-spectrum or broad-screen protection, which means it protects the skin against both UVA and UVB rays. But good modern sunscreens also offer protection against visible and infra-red light, and offer antioxidant protection too.

Once you know you’re protected against both UVA and UVB rays, you can look at the type of sunscreen, of which there are two – physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens (such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) form a physical shield on the skin and block or reflect the sun’s rays, whereas chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays and neutralise them. Many sunscreens combine the two for best protection. Physical screens are good for children and people who have sensitive skin. 

All I need is sunscreen. Sorry, no! You actually need to avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day (between 11am and 3pm), staying in shade without reflected sunlight, wearing sun-protective clothing such as a wide hat, covering clothing and UV protective sunglasses. Then you apply the sunscreen. 

It’s sunscreen, not sunblock. No sun protection product can block 100% of the sun’s light. That’s why we don’t have SPF 100 these days. Use high level sun protection (SPF 50+), but don’t rest on your laurels thinking you’re totally covered.

A higher SPF (Sun Protection Factor) gives you a full day pass in the sun. This is an absolute no-no. Sunscreen should be re-applied regularly, as the chemicals break down in the sun, and swimming and perspiration wash it off. It also rubs off on towels and clothing.

Never trust a sunscreen that says ‘All Day protection’. You’re buying in to a false sense of security.

I use high SPF sunscreen, so I’m covered. Are you? Are you really? It’s not only about the type and quality of sunscreen you use. How you apply and how much you apply are just as important. Few of us apply enough sunscreen. We need to use a shot glass full of sunscreen (average 30ml) to cover the exposed areas of the face and body – that’s a R5 coin-sized dollop to the face alone – and we need to re-apply regularly.

Read about our recommended sunscreens for all our needs in our next feature.

To find out more about protection against the sun or to find suitable treatment solutions after the damage was done, visit Skin Renewal on or contact 0861 SKIN SA (754 672).

Take the quick Beyond Beauty Survey and you could win a R2 000 Skin Renewal voucher to spend in our online store, with free delivery within South Africa. T&Cs apply.

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