If there’s one thing we can rely on with the Great British Summertime, it’s that the weather is unreliable. And we also know that as soon as the sun comes out, most of us like to be outside.
But if you’re spending time outside, particularly as temperatures soar, it’s important to practice good sun safety for the whole family.
Sunburn increases your risk of getting skin cancer. This is because when the skin absorbs ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight, it can damage the skin cells. In the short term, this damage can cause sunburn. In the long term, this damage builds up and raises the risk of cancer. Sunburn doesn’t only happen when you’re abroad or in direct sun. You can get sunburn at any time, even when it’s cloudy.
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Here are some tips for staying safe in the sun
- In the words of Baz Luhrman, wear sunscreen. And apply it liberally. An average adult needs at least two tablespoons of sunscreen to cover the whole body. If you are planning to be out in the sun for a long time, ideally this should be applied 30 minutes before you go out and immediately before you go out, as well as when you’ve been wet.
- Check the expiry date of your suncream. If it does not have one, a basic rule of thumb is that bottles normally have a shelf life of around three years. So if it’s been collecting dust at the back of your medicine cupboard, it might be time to buy some more.
- Don’t be tempted to trade your protection in exchange for a tan. Use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF). The higher the SPF, the better protected you are from the harmful effects of the sun. For children, an SPF of at least 50 is recommended and adults should use at least 30. It is also worth looking at a bottle’s UVA rating, aiming for one with at least four stars.
- Cover all areas of exposed skin. Don’t forget to protect your lips, ears, neck, shoulders, legs, feet etc. And if you’re thinning or bald on top, it’s best to wear a hat.
- If you’re planning on spending a whole day in the sun, like at the beach, sun protection clothes create a physical barrier, such as T-shirts, hats and long-sleeved swimwear that will cover more of your body.
- UV rays can damage your eyes and your vision, so it’s important to wear sunglasses or a flat-brimmed hat to protect your eyes, as these will absorb the harmful rays.
- Drink water. When your body is hot you sweat more, which is your body’s natural cooling mechanism. But this means your body loses vital fluids at a quicker rate than normal, which can lead to dehydration that can in turn lead to sunstroke, which can be fatal. It’s vital you drink lots of water if you’re spending prolonged periods in the sun.
- In the UK the sun is at its strongest between 11am and 3pm, so limit your exposure during this time. And if you are lucky enough to be going abroad, make sure you know the local peak times for the sun so you can adjust your behaviour accordingly and plan for extra SPF, protective clothing and finding shade. There’s a reason Spanish people take their siestas during the hottest part of the day!
- If you do get sunburnt, sponge the sore area with cool water and then apply soothing aftersun cream or spray, such as aloe vera. Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen will ease the pain by helping to reduce inflammation, but make sure you stay out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.
- Keep an eye on moles and freckles. If you have either, your risk of getting skin cancer is higher, so take additional precautions. And check for changes to your skin, including new moles, growths or lumps, or changes to existing moles or freckles. If you notice any changes, report these to your doctor as soon as possible. Skin cancer is much easier to treat if it’s found early
You can find more information on sun safety via the NHS website. And enjoy your time outdoors in a safe way.
Originally published: July 2020
Updated: July 2022