Sun safety

  • No matter where you are, whether at home or on holiday, it’s important to protect your skin when the sun is strong.

  • The best way to enjoy the sun safely is to use shade, clothing and sunscreen together to protect your skin.

  • Using sunscreen doesn’t mean you can spend longer in the sun. But it’s useful for protecting the parts of skin not covered by clothing or shade.

Sun safety guidelines

Too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage skin cells and cause skin cancer. In the UK almost 9 in 10 cases of melanoma skin cancer could be prevented by staying safe in the sun and avoiding sunbeds.

No matter where you are, whether at home or on holiday, it’s important to protect yourself from the sun. The sun is often strong enough to cause damage in the UK between mid-March and mid-October, even when it’s cold or cloudy.

By using these three steps together, you can protect your skin and enjoy the sun safely:

  1. Spend time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK.
     
  2. Cover up with clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and UV protection sunglasses.
     
  3. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and 4 or 5 stars. Use it generously, reapply regularly and use together with shade and clothing.

 

In the UK, the sun’s UV rays are often strong enough to cause damage between mid-March and mid-October. Use the UV index to find out how strong the sun’s UV rays are - if it is 3 or above, it’s time to consider our sun safety steps.

 

 

Sunburn increases your risk of cancer

Anyone can get sunburnt. For people with darker skin tones, sunburn might feel tender or itchy. For people with lighter skin tones, sunburn might also look red or pink. The more easily you get sunburnt, the more careful you need to be in the sun. Protecting your skin by following our sun safety steps will help reduce your risk of getting sunburnt.

Find out more about your risk of sunburn and what to do if you get sunburnt.

 

Shade

Spending time in the shade helps to protect your skin from the sun's UV rays.

Create shade

Spend time under trees, canopies, sun umbrellas or parasols, or go indoors. This helps protect you from the sun’s UV rays, and provides a break from the heat too!

  • 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 rays through. UV rays can also get through some fabrics and reflect off the ground. So, remember to cover up with clothes and a hat, and use sunscreen too!

  • Shade sails, sun umbrellas or parasols often show the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) on the label. This tells you how good the protection is against UV rays. A UPF of 30 to 49 offers very good protection, while UPF 50+ is rated as excellent. But UPF can be reduced if the material is damaged or weathered. 

Move with the shade

Remember that the sun moves across the sky throughout the day, and so shadey spots move too. Be sure to check where the shade is so that you’re still protected. If you can’t move with the shade, then use umbrellas or parasols to create shade where you are.

Don’t be fooled by the weather

Even on cloudy, windy or cooler days you can still get sunburnt. Over 90% of UV rays can pass through cloud. So be sure to still find shade, cover up and use sunscreen.

 

Covering up with clothing, hats and sunglasses 

Protect your skin from the sun with clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and UV protection sunglasses.

Clothing

The more skin that’s covered by your clothing, the better the protection.

  • Choose clothing that’s loose-fitting, ideally with long sleeves or at least covering your shoulders.
  • Look for materials with a close weave – hold the material up to the light to check you can’t see through the fabric. You may also see UPF ratings on some clothing.
  • Try to wear dark or bright colours. Intense colours can help filter more UV rays.

Hats

Choose a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face, ears and neck for the most UV protection..

Sunglasses

Sunglasses can protect your eyes from UV rays. You might think that darker lenses mean a higher protection from UV rays, but this isn’t always true. When choosing sunglasses look for:

  • 'CE Mark'
  • UV 400 label and/or 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

No sunscreen, no matter how high the Sun Protection Factor (SPF), can provide 100% protection from the sun. So it should be used together with shade and clothing to give your skin the best protection.

We recommend using sunscreens with:

  • SPF 30 or higher (UVB protection)
  • A high star rating of 4 or 5 stars (UVA protection)

UVA protection can also be shown by the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle. So, if you can’t find the star rating on the bottle, make sure the product you use has this symbol instead. The UVA circle symbol means it meets the EU minimum standard for UVA protection.

Skin damage and sunburn can still happen when wearing sunscreen, even one with a high SPF and star rating. Using sunscreen doesn't mean you should stay out in the sun for longer. Always use sunscreen together with shade and clothing.

Sunscreen also doesn’t make sunbathing or tanning safe. A tan is a sign of skin damage. If you want a tan, using fake tan from a bottle or getting a spray tan is safer than sunbathing or using sunbeds.

Find out more on our page about fake tan.

 

Tips for using sunscreen  

  • Choose a lotion, pump spray or roll-on product, not an aerosol. Aerosol sunscreens can be patchy and do not provide a thick-enough layer for protection.
     
  • Make sure you put enough on – people often put on much less sunscreen than they need to. Apply sunscreen evenly and thickly. 
     
  • 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 swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel.
     
  • Reapplying also helps you to cover more of your skin and not miss any areas.
     
  • Use sunscreen even if you have SPF in your moisturiser or makeup, as those products don’t give a thick-enough layer of protection on their own. And they aren’t usually reapplied.
     
  • Check the expiry date on your sunscreen before you use it. Look for a symbol with an open lid, the letter M and a number. This shows how many months the sunscreen will last once open.

 

Top tip: Apply sunscreen 30 mins before going out, and again just before you head outside. By applying twice, you are less likely to miss areas and more likely to get a thick-enough layer of sunscreen.

 

Does the brand of sunscreen make a difference?

It doesn’t matter which brand you buy, as long as you choose a product with at least SPF 30 and 4 or 5 stars. And remember to apply it regularly and generously! Pick a sunscreen that works for you – if you like the feel and smell, and it’s affordable, you’re more likely to use it.  Cancer Research UK does not endorse any specific brand of sunscreen.

 

Sun safety is important at all ages. The best way to protect adult or children’s skin is to use a combination of shade, clothing and sunscreen.

Remember, sunscreen doesn’t give complete protection from the sun. It always needs to be used together with shade, clothing, a hat and UV protection sunglasses. Apply sunscreen regularly and generously, using a minimum of SPF 30 and a 4 or 5 star rating.

Sunscreen should not be used on babies under 6 months old, so think about shade and covering them up with clothing. The NHS recommends that babies under 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight.

Children and teenagers might need a reminder or a helping hand when it comes to sun safety. But setting a good example yourself is a great way to help them learn how to be safe in the sun. 

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 October 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 October 2021]

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