- The best way to enjoy the sun safely and protect your skin is to use shade, clothing and sunscreen.
- Shade and clothing are better than sunscreen at protecting your skin.
- Sunscreen shouldn’t be used to spend longer in the sun. But they can be useful for protecting the parts of skin not covered by clothing or shade.
Sun safety guidelines
In the UK, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are the strongest between 11am and 3pm from mid-March to mid-October. During this time, the sun may be strong enough to cause damage. Take extra care to protect your skin, especially if you get sunburnt easily by:
- Spending time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK.
- Covering up with clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and UV protection sunglasses.
- And using a sunscreen with at least SPF15 and 4 or 5 stars. Use it generously, reapply regularly and use together with shade and clothing.
Find out who is most at risk of sunburn, and what you can do to protect yourself
Spending time in the shade is one of the best ways to protect your skin from the sun's UV rays.
Take a break under trees, umbrellas, canopies or go indoors. Not only will it help protect you from the harmful UV rays, if it’s hot, you’ll get a break from the heat, too.
- Structures made from material such as shade sails often show the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) on the label. This tells you how good the protection is against UV rays. UPF can be reduced if the material is damaged or weathered.
- Some shade protects you more than others. Trees can be convenient, but remember that when the wind blows, gaps in the branches and leaves can let UV through. UV rays can also get through some fabrics and reflect off the ground, so think about clothing and sunscreen, too.
The sun moves
Remember that the sun moves across the sky throughout the day, and shadey spots move with it. Be sure to check where the shade is so that you’re still protected.
Even on cloudy or foggy days you can still get sunburned. Up to 80% of UV rays pass through cloud or mist, so be sure to still find shade, cover up and use sunscreen on the areas you cannot cover.
Covering up with clothing, hats and sunglasses
Protect your skin from the sun with clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and UV protection sunglasses.
Clothing should cover your shoulders and have long sleeves. The more skin that’s covered by your clothing, the better the protection.
- Choose clothing that’s loose-fitting and darker in colour
- Look for materials with a close weave- as a guide you can hold the material up to the light to check you can’t see through the fabric
Choose a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face, ears and neck for the most UV protection.
Sunglasses can protect your eyes from UV rays. When choosing sunglasses look for one of the following:
- 'CE Mark' and British Standard
- UV 400 label and 100% UV protection written on the label or sticker
- Protection at the side of the eye, for example, wraparound styles, sports glasses or bigger sunglasses
Sunscreen doesn’t protect us completely from sun damage on its own. However, it can be useful for taking care of the parts of skin we can’t shade or cover. This is why we recommend using sunscreens together with shade or clothing.
We recommend buying sunscreens with a:
- Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 (UVB protection)
- High star rating with 4 or 5 stars (UVA protection)
UVA protection can also be shown by the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle. This means that it meets the EU standard.
No sunscreen, no matter how high the factor, can provide 100% protection. Sunscreen shouldn’t be used to extend your time in the sun, and it doesn’t make tanning safe. In fact, you could be more likely to get sun burn and skin damage if you use sunscreen to sunbathe.
Tips for using sunscreen properly
It's important to use it properly to get the level of protection it says on the bottle:
- Make sure you put enough on – people often put on much less sunscreen than they need to. Apply sunscreen evenly and thickly. Make sure that you’re putting enough on if using a spray or roll on sunscreen.
- Reapply sunscreen regularly throughout the day including ‘once a day’ and ‘water resistant’ products. Sunscreen can rub, sweat or wash off – even if it’s supposed to be waterproof. It’s especially important to put more on after toweling dry. Reapplying also helps avoid missing bits of skin.
- Check the expiry date on your sunscreen before you use it. Look for a symbol with the letter M and a number that shows how many months the sunscreen will last after opening.
Does the brand of sunscreen make a difference?
No. It doesn’t matter which brand you buy, so long as you choose one with at least SPF15 and 4 or 5 stars. Cancer Research UK does not endorse any specific brand of sunscreens.
Sun safety for children
Sun safety is important at all ages. Protect children’s skin using a combination of shade, clothing and sunscreen.
Encourage them to spend time in the shade particularly between 11am-3pm when the sun is strongest, you can read more about this in the above section.
Covering skin with clothing helps to reduce UV rays reaching the skin, perhaps wearing a t-shirt in the paddling pool or a hat when at the park. Remember sunglasses and hats are a great way to protect the eyes and face, too.
Sunscreen doesn’t protect us completely from sun damage on its own. However, it can be useful for taking care of the parts of skin we can’t shade or cover. Apply it regularly and use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15 and a 4 or 5 star rating.
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 good habits. The NHS recommends that children under 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight.
Linos E. et al. Hat, shade, long sleeves, or sunscreen? Rethinking US sun protection messages based on their relative effectiveness. Cancer Causes Control. 22(7), 1067-1071 (2011) doi:10.1007/s10552-011-9780
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Am I safe on a cloudy day or under a parasol? European Code Against Cancer. http://cancer-code-europe.iarc.fr/index.php/en/ecac-12-ways/sun-uv-exposure-recommendation/78-cloudy-day-parasol. [Accessed May 2021]
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng34/chapter/supporting-information-for-practitioners#the-strength-of-sunlight-at-different-times-of-day. [Accessed May 2021]