Five summer myths - busted!

With lockdown easing, it looks as though we might actually get some semblance of a summer after all.

As you head on holiday or soak up the Sun at home, there’s a few things everyone ought to know. You’ll likely get lots of conflicting information about what to do and what not to do, and not just about Covid-19.

Summer myths have been around for a long time - if you’ve been told it's safe to tan if you don't burn, you’re not the only one.

Covid-19 has however brought its own onslaught of summery tall tales. Spoiler alert: if anyone tells you that sitting out in the Sun over the next few months will ward off the disease, they’re telling you fibs.

So let’s get straight into busting that, and a load of other summer myths.

1. 'Anti-bac gel sets alight if left in the Sun'

There were reports during the lockdown heatwave that bottles of anti bacterial gel were bursting into flames when left in the Sun. Some even claimed the resulting fire burned through a car door.

Aleksandr Zubkov

People may have thought this because hand sanitiser has what’s called a low flash point, which is the temperature required to produce an ignitable vapour. As hand gel is alcoholic, this vapour can be produced at temperatures as low as 21 degrees if the alcohol level is at or above 70%.

The team at Full Fact however have debunked the idea that this then leads to a fire. Despite the low flash point, it cannot set fire at that temperature without a spark to ignite it. To set alight on its own, the hand sanitiser would need to reach over 350 degrees Celsius.

The National Fire Chiefs Council also put out the following statement in light of the reports: "We want to reassure people that this product will not combust if left in a car - even on the hottest day. For hand sanitiser to cause a fire it would need to come into contact with a spark."

So unless your hand sanitiser is next to an open flame, it’s very unlikely it’s going to catch fire. Best to keep it out of the Sun (and well away from any potential source of ignition) to be on the safe side, though.

2. 'Tanning is fine if you don’t burn'

In the UK, we like to make the most of every hot, sunny day. After all, who knows when the next one will be?

For some, that means getting out the picnic blankets or sun loungers, and waiting for a bronze tan.

The dangers of sunburn are quite well known. As well as being painful in the short-term, it also increases the risk of skin cancer and can cause skin to age prematurely.

However, not everyone is aware that tanning itself is a sign of skin damage.

Dr Ophelia Dadzie of the British Association of Dermatologists says: “The development of a tan is a result of the skin cells producing more of the pigment melanin in an attempt to protect itself from further damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays from the Sun.”

Whenever you are outside in sunny weather, you should take the necessary precautions, such as wearing sunscreen and protective clothing and hats.

Elizabeth Fernandez

3. 'Having dark skin prevents skin damage'

So if melanin protects against harmful UV rays, does that mean people with darker skin, containing more melanin, can’t get sunburn or skin cancer?

Unfortunately not.

Dr Dadzie explains: “Melanin absorbs some of the UV rays from the Sun, meaning that people that naturally have more melanin will have a higher level of natural protection from the Sun. Despite this, people with darker skin are not completely resistant to Sun damage.”

Whilst people with darker skin do have a much lower risk of getting skin cancer, they have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.

For that reason, Dr Dadzie states that “people with darker skin types are more likely to benefit from Sun exposure.”

But same rules apply - sunscreen and protective clothing at all times.

4. 'Hot weather kills off Covid-19'

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says this is categorically FALSE, for Covid and for pretty much every other viral infection.

Dr Simon Bowers, a GP in Liverpool, says that while it’s true we're more likely to get a viral illness in the winter rather than the summer, that’s because “we all gang together inside and don't get much fresh air”.

He explains: “Viruses or bacteria are biological organisms that exist the same way we do. And those organisms have got chemicals in them called enzymes that regulate every single chemical reaction, and they work at a certain temperature.

“For the vast majority of enzymes, they work really well up until you get to about 50 degrees Celsius. And so it's going to have to be as hot as Death Valley in the middle of July before those enzymes even start to malfunction.”

Remember, hot countries have reported cases of Covid-19, and other recent outbreaks, such as Swine Flu in the UK, started in the summer months.

In summary, Dr Bowers says: “Anyone saying ‘sit in the Sun to avoid Covid’ is talking total and utter nonsense.”

Equally, a good icy spell won’t kill off Covid either, as Dr Bowers explains.

“The human body is 37 degrees Celsius… viruses are evolutionary designed to work at human body temperature; that's how they spread. And so the problem is, we can't artificially create that level of sub freezing cold because of course, if the viral enzymes are breaking down then so are your own.”


5. 'Clear water is always safe to swim in'

Beautifully clear water can look incredibly inviting to swim in, or pose for that perfect Instagram shot. There are some absolutely gorgeous lakes and meres around the UK. However, just because something looks safe, doesn’t mean it is.

You can’t tell how acidic or alkaline water is just by looking at.

If a body of water looks a stunning blue, it could be due to chemicals being released from the material within it, such as rocks or blue green algae.

Nathan Stirk
Harpur Hill Quarry, also known as the Blue Lagoon, dyed black

In Derbyshire, a pool in a disused quarry has been dyed black several times in the past to dissuade people from jumping in.

The water there has a pH level of 11.3, meaning that it is dangerously alkaline. It’s not far off the 12.3 pH level of bleach.

Swimming in such water could lead to skin irritation and stomach problems.

It is also dangerous and, in many places illegal, to swim in reservoirs. Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service warn that the deep water can hide any machinery and strong currents from underwater pipes, and reservoirs are known to be extremely cold.

Even the strongest swimmer can get into trouble in a reservoir.

Their often isolated locations means it can be difficult for the emergency services to arrive in time.

Before you go swimming in any water, do read as much as you can on how to swim safely. This BBC News article and Swim England's seven tips for staying safe in the water are a good place to start.

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