Ways to enjoy the sun safely
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 or you’re at risk of burning:
- Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
- Cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses.
- Use a sunscreen with a protection level of at least SPF15 and 4 stars. Use it generously and reapply regularly.
Who is most at risk of skin cancer?
Anyone can develop skin cancer, but some people are more likely to get the disease than others. These people tend to have one or more of the following:
- Fair skin that burns easily in strong sun
- Lots of moles or freckles
- Red or fair hair
- Light-coloured eyes
- A personal or family history of skin cancer
- A history of sunburn
What if I don’t have fair skin?
People with naturally brown or black skin are much less likely to develop skin cancer. This is because they have more melanin pigment in their skin cells – which helps protect the skin from damaging UV rays. But getting a tan isn't the same as having naturally darker skin and suntan offers very little protection – at best equivalent to SPF3.
However, skin cancer can still affect people with brown or black skin. It is most common on parts of the body that aren’t often exposed to the sun such as the soles of the feet.
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
- Going indoors
- Tents and shelters
- Wide-brimmed hats
When there's no shade around, the best way to protect your skin from the sun is with loose clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and good quality sunglasses.
The more skin that’s covered by your clothing, the better the protection you’re getting. Look for materials with a close weave, as they will block out the most UV rays. Holding the material up to the light is a good way to see how much light and UV rays will get through.
Be aware that when some clothes get wet, they stretch and allow more UV rays through to your skin. This is particularly a problem for cotton clothes. A wet cotton t-shirt may only offer half the protection of a dry one.
Hats are great for protecting the face, eyes 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.
When choosing sunglasses look for one of the following:
- 'CE Mark' and British Standard (BS EN 1836:1997)
- 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.
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.
Sunscreens with higher factors don’t provide much more protection against UVB radiation. For example, an SPF15 sunscreen filters out 93% of UVB radiation, while an SPF30 sunscreen filters out 96%.
Worryingly, many people burn more frequently when they use higher factors of sunscreen because they stay out in the sun for longer. 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, whether it’s factor 15 or 50, 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, to get the full protection. When your risk of burning is high, ensure that all exposed skin is thoroughly covered in sunscreen. As a guide this means: Around 2 teaspoonfuls of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck. Around 2 tablespoonfuls if you're covering your entire body, while wearing a swimming costume
- Reapply sunscreen regularly – it is easily rubbed, sweated or washed off. 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.
- Apply to clean, dry skin.
- Even sunscreens that claim to be ‘water resistant’ or ‘waterproof’ should be reapplied after going in the water, especially if you have towelled dry.
- 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, but ensure 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.
Do I need to reapply P20/once a day application sunscreens?
Some sunscreens claim to provide effective protection after just one application. But even with these sunscreens, reapplying regularly is important, because you are more likely to get even coverage and avoid missing bits that may then get burnt.