22% of UK consumers think sunscreen is “harmful” to their skin

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

La Roche-Posay noted that younger consumers appeared to be more misinformed than older ones (Image: Getty)
La Roche-Posay noted that younger consumers appeared to be more misinformed than older ones (Image: Getty)

Related tags suncare Sunscreen UV protection Spf Skin cancer Skin care Sun care

New research from La Roche-Posay shows many UK consumers are highly misinformed on how to protect their skin from the sun. This presents sun care brands with a huge opportunity to educate and assist in the prevention of sun-related skin damage and skin cancer.

L’Oréal’s La Roche-Posay brand quizzed 2,000 UK consumers for their views on long-held and much-perpetuated health myths and discovered that many people misunderstood expert advice on the topic of protecting skin from the sun’s rays.

For example, 19% believed that you could not get sunburned within the first 30 minutes of being outside in the sun, and this belief rose to 29% for those aged between 25 and 34.

The research also discovered that 21% of people quizzed thought that UV rays cannot reach skin you through a window (and this rises to 34% for 25–34-year-olds) and 22% thought that sunscreen was only necessary during the summer months, despite UV rays being present all year round.

Do we really need sunscreen?

The top misconceptions around sun cream itself included: 26% of those quizzed thought you won’t get burned at all if you wear sun cream; 25% thought sun cream caused blemishes and breakouts; 22% thought that sun cream can be harmful to skin; and 23% believed that sunburn is totally unavoidable.

La Roche-Posay noted that younger consumers appeared to be more misinformed than older ones, while in terms of gender, men were generally less knowledgeable on the subject than women. 

For example, a higher proportion of men (26%) believed that sun care was seasonal and only necessary in the summer (compared to 17% of women).

On a positive note, 38% of people polled did however say that their attitude towards sun safety has changed in the last six months, which shows a positive shift in sun safe behaviour.

The research found the main influences for health-related attitudes and information are parents, school and social media.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the World Health Organisation adopting the standardised UV scale – which is now a feature of weather forecasts.

La Roche-Posay also noted that, on average, a person’s risk for melanoma (skin cancer) doubled if they have had more than five sunburns in their lifetime.

What is UVA and UVB? 

The brand, which works closely with dermatologists to develop and design its sun care products said its now on a mission to educate consumers on sun safety – particularly surrounding the different types of UV.

It stated: “there are two types of UV – UVA and UVB. These are easily remembered through their effects on the skin – ‘A’ for ‘Aging’ and ‘B’ for ‘Burning’. UVA rays activate existing melanin in the skin and lead to short term tanning. UVB rays, on the other hand, penetrate the surface layers of the skin and are the major contributor to sunburn. These rays also increase melanin production in the skin, which causes the delayed tanning effect following sunburn.”

While UVB exposure has long been identified as the main cause skin cancer, it is now acknowledged both UVA and UVB rays can increase skin cancer risk.

To help educate consumers as summer begins, the brand is working with consultant dermatologist Dr Hiva Fassihi as a spokesperson for the UK market, with Dr Fassihi promoting the following educational advice:

  • Avoid direct sun exposure between 11am and 3pm. Keep babies and young children out of the sun at all times.
  • Apply cream – apply 30 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every two hours and after swimming and towelling. The amount of UVA and UVB protection a sunscreen provides is related to how thickly it is applied onto the skin, so be generous with your sunscreen application. Studies have shown that there are certain parts of the body that we are most likely to miss when applying sunscreen, people namely miss applying to the ears and tops of feet.
  • Cover up – people rely too much on their sunscreen. For optimal protection, sunscreens must be used in conjunction with sensible sun-exposure behaviour. Wear a sun hat with a brim, t-shirt and sunglasses with UV protection.

On the topic of the new research and the surrounding educational campaign, Dr Fassihi commented: 

“Too many people avoid wearing sunscreen because they think it might be harmful to their skin, or they think it’s healthier to have a tan. There is no evidence of this and plenty of evidence that excess sun exposure is very harmful to the skin.”

 “Although invisible, harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that cause skin cancer and ageing are present all year-round. Sun protection should be applied daily, even in winter, but especially when the sun is out.”

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