Ways to enjoy the sun safely

Friends wear straw hats in the sun

Whatever your age, the best way to enjoy the sun safely and protect your skin from sunburn is to use a combination of shade, clothing and sunscreen. Children and teenagers might need a reminder or a helping hand, but setting a good example yourself is a great way to help them learn and get into good habits.

When the sun is strong:

  • Spend time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK
  • Cover up with clothes, a hat and sunglasses.
  • And use a sunscreen with a protection level of at least SPF15 and 4 stars. Use it generously and reapply regularly.

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Shade

One of the best ways to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun's UV rays is to spend some time in the shade.

You can find or create shade in many different ways. For example:

  • Trees and foliage
  • Umbrellas and parasols
  • Canopies and awnings
  • Tents and shelter
  • Going indoors

Spending time in the shade is a great way to protect your skin when the sun is strong. But UV rays can go through some fabrics and reflect off the ground so it’s still important to think about clothing and sunscreen.

Covering up

Along with shade, another way to protect your skin from the sun is with clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and good quality sunglasses.

Clothes

The more skin that’s covered by your clothing, the better the protection you’re getting. Choose clothing that’s loose-fitting and deeper in colour. Also look for materials with a close weave- as a guide hold the material up to check you can’t see through the fabric. Clothing that’s dry also provides more protection than if it’s wet. This is particularly the case for cotton clothes.

Hats

Hats are great for protecting the whole face and head. Choose a wide-brimmed hat for the most protection. A ‘legionnaire’ style hat that has flaps around the ears and back of the neck also offers good protection.

Sunglasses

When choosing sunglasses look for one of the following:

  • 'CE Mark' and British Standard
  • UV 400 label
  • 100% UV protection written on the label or sticker

Also, make sure that the glasses offer protection at the side of the eye, for example, choose wraparound styles.

Sunscreen

Sunscreens will not protect us completely from sun damage on their own. However, they can be useful for protecting the parts of skin we can’t shade or cover. This is why we recommend using sunscreens together with shade or clothing to avoid getting too much UV exposure.

We recommend buying sunscreens with a:

  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 (UVB protection)
  • High star rating with at least 4 stars (UVA protection)

UVA protection can also be indicated by the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle which indicates that it meets the EU standard.

Worryingly, research suggests people who use sunscreen to deliberately sunbathe are more likely to spend longer in the sun, and might even be more likely to get sunburnt.  And there is a concern that higher factor sunscreens may lure people into a false sense of security.

You should never use sunscreen in order to spend longer in the sun. No sunscreen, no matter how high the factor, can provide 100% protection.

Tips for using sunscreen properly

No sunscreen will give the protection it claims unless you apply it properly.

  • Make sure you put enough sunscreen on – people often apply much less than they need to. When your risk of burning is high, ensure that all exposed skin is thoroughly covered in sunscreen. As a guide for an adult this means: Around 2 teaspoonfuls of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck. Around 2 and a half tablespoonfuls if you're covering your entire body, for example while wearing a swimming costume
  • Reapply sunscreen regularly including ‘once a day’ and ‘water resistant’ products. Some products are designed to stay on better than others, but beware of sunscreen rubbing, sweating or washing off. It’s especially important to reapply after towelling dry. And reapplying helps avoid missing bits of skin.
  • Use sunscreen together with shade and clothing to avoiding getting caught out by sunburn.
  • Don’t be tempted to spend longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen.
  • Don’t store sunscreens in very hot places as extreme heat can ruin their protective chemicals.
  • Don’t forget to check the expiry date on your sunscreen. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of 2-3 years, shown on the label by a symbol of a pot with the letter M and a number – this is the number of months the sunscreen will last once it’s been opened. Check your sunscreen has not expired before you use it.

Does the brand of sunscreen make a difference?

Cancer Research UK does not endorse any specific brand of sunscreens. All sunscreens use the same methods to determine how protective they are.

This means that brand and price are less important than things like the SPF and star ratings, which tell you how much protection they offer.

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