Sunscreen myths

MYTH: Sunscreen ingredients reduce sperm quality.
There have been articles published internationally claiming that common sunscreen ingredients could be damaging male fertility. Dr Chris Flower, Director-General of CTPA, a toxicologist and Chartered Biologist, says:
“CTPA is very disappointed to hear there has been speculation regarding sperm counts and possible links to substances used in cosmetics. There is no published evidence to support such an allegation and we can state categorically that cosmetic products are required by strict European laws to be safe. The industry and the regulators are aware of concerns regarding possible endocrine effects and if such a risk was present from cosmetic products, action would already have taken place to deal with it.
“Not to wear sunscreen is an outrageous piece of advice because we know the risks of sun damage, and to frighten pregnant women about non-existent dangers of cosmetics is equally irresponsible.”

A substance that could reduce sperm rates or affect fertility would be classed as an ‘endocrine disruptor’. The CTPA stresses that cosmetic ingredients, including UV filters mentioned in these stories, are not endocrine disruptors. There is a wealth of scientific information that supports the safety of these ingredients and nothing linking them to a decline in fertility. Cosmetic products are subject to strict laws that mean they are some of the most studied products on the market and go through numerous tests before they are deemed safe to go on sale.

MYTH: 80 percent of your lifetime sun exposure happens by age 18.
Actually, only about 23 percent of lifetime exposure occurs by age 18, which means that you should follow sun safety guidelines to prevent sun damage at every age.

MYTH: Tanning on a sunbed is safer as it is a controlled dose of UV exposure.
When compared to people who have never tanned indoors, indoor tanners have a higher risk of all forms of skin cancer. Even occasional use of a sunbed puts you at risk of developing melanoma, one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer.

Sunbeds emit artificial UVA and UVB radiation, both of which are known to cause skin cancer. Sunbeds may fast track your skin tan, but a sunbed will also fast track your chances significantly of developing skin cancer.

A controlled dose of tanning lamp radiation is a high dose: Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual ultraviolet A (UVA) dose they receive from sun exposure.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer division of the World Health Organisation, have classified tanning beds as “carcinogenic to humans” – and in the agency’s highest cancer risk category, which also includes tobacco, asbestos, and arsenic.

In an analysis of over 20 epidemiological studies, IARC concluded that the risk of melanoma is increased by 75 percent when the use of tanning devices starts before age 30. Overall, the use of sunbeds boosts the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 20 percent. Use of cosmetic tanning devices is also associated with increased risk of melanoma of the eye.

MYTH: Some sunscreens actually cause cancer.
Current research shows that when used as directed, sunscreens are safe and effective. Sunsmart recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection programme.

Although there has been an increase in the number of skin cancers diagnosed in the last century, according to, it is the greater UV exposure due to the trend for tanning, rather than the advent of commercial sunscreens, that provides the most compelling explanation for the increase in skin cancers.

MYTH: You only need sunscreen on a sunny or summer day.
Just because the sun is hidden behind clouds, doesn’t mean you’re safe from the sun’s damaging rays. Up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate through clouds and fog.

MYTH: A base tan protects your skin from sunburn.
The minute your skin shows the signs of a tan, you know it is already damaged. There is no such thing as a safe or protective tan; any tan at all is a sign of skin damage. Skin tans in response to UV damage to the skin’s DNA. A tan is the skin’s attempt to repair sun damage and prevent further injury, but these imperfect repairs can cause gene defects that can lead to skin cancer.

MYTH: A sunscreen with SPF50 is enough for the whole day.
No matter how high the SPF rating, no sunscreen can screen out all UVR. All sunscreens are filters allowing some UVR to pass through to the skin. Above SPF 50+ the additional protection is very small. In fact, high SPF values are a problem. Studies have shown that people use them to stay out longer in the sun, using sunburn as a warning to take cover. During this time you can receive large doses of UVA radiation.
The Cancer Society advises that SPF30+ sunscreen is sufficient for sun protection if applied correctly. Higher SPF sunscreens are available, however, they still need to be correctly applied and reapplied regularly.

MYTH: Darker skins don’t get skin cancer.
People of darker skin colour are less likely to develop skin cancer than Caucasians, but they have a higher risk of dying from it. A very dangerous and fast-spreading skin cancer known as acral lentiginous melanoma is more common among darker-skinned people. Whatever your skin colour, it is essential to use broad spectrum sun protection of SPF30 or higher.

MYTH: Windows protect skin from sun damage.
While glass does block most UVB rays, UVA radiation still gets through and causes deeper, more dangerous damage. Even inside or in a car with the windows up, sun damage can occur unless sun screen or sun protection is used.

MYTH: Sun exposure helps improve acne and pimples.
A tan can temporarily camouflage the redness of a pimple and dry out the skin’s surface, but sun exposure will further aggravate acne and lead to more breakouts. The sun also dehydrates skin and when that happens, your skin overcompensates with more sebum, which may worsen the problem.

Sources: CTPA,,, NZ Cancer Society

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