10 things that don't keep you as safe from sunburn and skin damage as you think

Think your skin is safe behind windows? Or under your clothes? Think again...

Press Association
Last updated: 30 June 2018 - 6.25pm

Apparently something called “summer” is on the way. This means we’re all probably about to be bombarded by well-meaning advice about staying safe in the sun – be it from our friends and family, TV adverts featuring well-read experts, and random articles (like this one) on the internet.

But while lots of us try to stay safe in the sun, you might be surprised to find that some things that you thought were protecting you aren’t actually doing a very good job. 

1. Sun lotion

Sun tan lotion
(Nick Ansell/PA)


Apparently there are three basics you’ve got to cover when buying any sun cream. Always use a minimum SPF 15, with five star UVA rating, and a brand you trust.

Which is all very well and good, but some of those terms probably need explaining.

[Which is the best suncare for me? 9 of the best new sunscreens to try this summer]

SPF is “Sun Protection Factor” and simply indicates how good the product is at preventing sunburn.  The bigger the number, the greater the protection and the less likely you are to burn using it.

Sun tan lotion
(Yui Mok/PA)


UVA and UVB stand for “Ultraviolet A” and “Ultraviolet B”. Ultraviolet (UV) light is the part of sunlight that reacts with living tissues and causes damage. UVB is the region that causes most of the sunburn reaction in skin whilst UVA was originally considered to be the “safe” ultraviolet but is now know to be responsible for cumulative and long term damage.

The UVA star rating system measures the level of UVA protection in a product in relation to UVB. A five-star UVA product offers approximately equal protection against UVA rays as well as UVB rays.

2. Clouds

Sun over clouds
(Felipe Dana/AP)


During overcast days when you can’t really feel the sun on your skin it’s always tempting to neglect your sun-care rituals. But you shouldn’t.

Some UVB light can be filtered out by cloud cover, whereas UVA light can still come through at the same rate. However, light cloud cover does little to reduce the effects of UV on the skin and we should still  protect our skin in the same way as on a clear sunny day.

3. Water

Sun tan lotion in swimming pool

(Brian Blanco/Invision)


Most of us probably realise that water does very little to stop the sun’s rays – whether you’re doing laps of the pool or snorkelling in the sea. But it’s cooling effect can often hide how badly we’re burning.

UV light still penetrates through water, especially near to the surface. Water also reflects a considerable amount of UV light increasing the effect on the skin.

The best thing to do is invest in a good water-resistant sun cream, and make sure you keep it topped up.

4. Windows

(Michael Probst/AP)


The sun can’t get you inside, right? Wrong.

Window glass will filter out UVB light but UVA light still gets through unless the window has a special coating. Most house or office windows are not laminated and therefore UVA light will penetrate. Tinted windows  may have a minimal protective effect but UVA light will still get through.

If you are spending time sitting by a window in your office all day it is still important to protect your skin with a minimum SPF 15 and five-star UVA rated product – even if you aren’t intending to spend any time outside.

5. Car windows

(John Paul Henry/AP)


Your car windscreen is one of the exceptions to the window rules because the UVA rays won’t penetrate its special tinted glass.

However the same cannot be said for your side windows and sun roof. Expect damaging rays to flood through these as they would with any other glass.

6. Wet clothes

Wet clothes
(Tim Ireland/PA)


Wet clothes help to keep you cool, which is very useful during a heatwave. But at the same time a moist fabric dramatically reduces the protection it would have offered you in a dry state.

When cotton is dry it provides an SPF of around 10 but when wet this decreases by more than half to an SPF of 3. Regardless of what material the clothing is made from remember that the protection is reduced dramatically when wet, it is important to still use sun protection rather than rely on clothing alone for protection.

7. Certain types of fabric

(Gareth Fuller/PA)


The rule is that loser woven fabrics like wool would originally provide lower protection as there are gaps in the weave and UV rays can get through. This protection is then further reduced the more transparent a fabric gets. Therefore silk and cotton provide greater protection when dry than wool.

8. The shade

Shade of trees
(Elise Amendola/AP)


Even if you think you’re hidden from the sun’s scorching line of sight, it’s important to remember that those rays don’t just come directly from the sun itself.

A large amount of UV radiation reflects from surfaces, such as sand, concrete, water and grass, and can hit your skin, even if you’re sitting under a tree or sun umbrella. This is known as solar reflectance, or albedo.

9. Sun umbrellas

Sun umbrella in Egypt
(Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP)


For exactly the same reason, your main line of defence on holiday – the trusty sun umbrella – may not be as protective as you think. Whether you’re lounging on a Bahamian beach or sauntering round Santorini, those pesky rays could well be giving your parasol the slip.

According to experts “(The albedo effect) is particularly strong in places like Greece where the white buildings and surfaces means you are more exposed to UV reflection. The UV is no less strong when reflected so ensure you keep yourself protected even if you’re just strolling around!”

10. Darker skin

Sun burn
(Anthony Devlin/PA)


OK, so this one probably won’t blow your mind: Fairer skin is more susceptible to burning. Paler folk are also at greater risk from of developing diseases such as melanoma.

However, that doesn’t mean sun-lovers with darker skin should neglect their skin-protection products. Other forms of skin cancer are associated with excessive sun exposure across all skin types.

All skin will still be affected by premature ageing. Brown spots and uneven pigmentation are often UV-induced ageing effects in darker skins, whereas wrinkles may be more prevalent in a lighter skin tone.

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