Ways to enjoy the sun safely

  • The best way to enjoy the sun safely and protect your skin is to use a combination of shade, clothing and sunscreen.
  • Shade and clothing are more effective than sunscreen at protecting your skin.
  • Sunscreens 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.

We all enjoy a sunny day and need some sun to help us make Vitamin D, but it’s important to enjoy the sun safely and know how to protect your skin. 

Three ways to enjoy the sun safely

In the UK, the sun’s UV rays are the strongest between 11am and 3pm from early April and late September. 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:

  1. Spending time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK.
  2. Covering up with clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and wraparound sunglasses.
  3. And using a sunscreen with at least SPF15 and 4 or 5 stars. Use it generously, reapply regularly and use in combination with shade and clothing.

Find out who is most at risk of sunburn, and when you need to protect yourself from the sun here

1. Shade

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

You can find or create shade in many ways. Take a break under trees, umbrellas, canopies or head indoors.

Although shade structures can reduce your overall exposure to UV, it probably won’t completely protect you. UV rays can go through some fabrics and reflect off the ground so it’s still important to think about clothing and sunscreen.

2. Covering up

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

Clothes

Clothing should cover your shoulders and have long sleeves. The more skin that’s covered by your clothing, the better the protection you’re getting.

  • Choose clothing that’s loose-fitting and darker in colour.
  • 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 that shades your face, ears and neck for the most UV protection.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses can protect your eyes from UV exposure.

When choosing sunglasses look for one of the following:

  1. 'CE Mark' and British Standard
  2. UV 400 label and 100% UV protection written on the label or sticker
  3. Protection at the side of the eye, for example, wraparound styles.

3. 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 4 or 5 stars (UVA protection)

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

Sunscreen shouldn’t be used to extend your time in the sun. 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. Higher factor sunscreens may lure people into a false sense of security.

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 use enough and apply it properly. It doesn’t matter what the brand is, or the price, as long as it is SPF15 or higher and has a star rating of 4 or 5 stars.

  • Make sure you put enough sunscreen on – people often apply much less than they need to. When your risk of burning is high apply sunscreen evenly and thickly. As a guide for an adult this means: Around 2 teaspoonfuls of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck. 
  • Reapply sunscreen regularly throughout the day including ‘once a day’ and ‘water resistant’ products. Sunscreen can rub, sweat or wash off. It’s especially important to reapply after toweling dry. And reapplying helps avoid missing bits of skin.
  • Don’t store sunscreens in very hot places as extreme heat can ruin their protective chemicals.
  • Check the expiry date on your sunscreen before you use it. Look for a symbol on the pot with the letter M and a number which shows the number of months the sunscreen will last once it’s been opened.

Does the brand of sunscreen make a difference?

No. Cancer Research UK does not endorse any specific brand of sunscreens.

Our sun safety advice is the same for children. Protect their skin using a combination of shade, clothing and sunscreen.

Children 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.

The NHS recommends that children under 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight.

This page has more information- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/safety-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    

Autier P. et al. Sunscreen use, wearing clothes, and number of nevi in 6- to 7-year-old European children. European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Melanoma Cooperative Group. J Natl Cancer Inst. 90(24), 1873-1880 (1998) doi:10.1093/jnci/90.24.187

Lazovich D. et al. Melanoma risk in relation to use of sunscreen or other sun protection methods. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 20(12), 2583-2593 (2011) doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-11-0705.

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 Januray 2019]

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 January 2019]

Parisi A V, Turnbull DJ. Shade provision for UV minimization: a review. Photochem Photobiol. 90(3), 479-490 (2014). doi:10.1111/php.12237 

Autier P. Sunscreen abuse for intentional sun exposure. Br J Dermatol. 161, 40-45 (2009) doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2009.09448.x

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