Be Skin Aware – Choosing the right sunscreen and understanding UVA protection

With the return of outdoor socialising and warmer weather approaching, many of us are looking forward to a summer spent in the sunshine. To help you stay safe in the sun as we head back outdoors, Check4Cancer is sharing a series of blogs this month on being skin aware. In this blog we look at choosing the right sunscreen and understanding UVA protection.

In the UK, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. Rates of the disease are increasing faster than any other cancer, with figures doubling every 10-20 years.1 At least 100,000 new cases are diagnosed and over 2,500 people die each year in the UK from skin cancer – that’s 7 people every day.2

Over 80% of all skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or sunbeds. This means that the majority of skin cancers are preventable by undertaking simple sun safety measures.

What does the SPF number mean?

The SPF number relates to the length of time you can spend in the sun without burning from UVB radiation. When correctly applied, SPF 15 provides about 94% protection against UVB rays, SPF 30 = 97% and SPF 50+ = 98%.

SPF does not work on a sliding scale of protection3; you are protected, or you are not. It is important therefore to choose a high SPF and apply correctly and reapply often.

Choosing the right sunscreen 

  • Choose a high SPF. Most fair-skinned people will need SPF 30 or higher to stop them from burning in the summertime.
  • Choose a sunscreen product with a superior UVA 4-5 star-rated protection symbol.
  • Never rely on sunscreen alone to protect your skin.

Below is a guide to help you understand UVA protection.

UVA Protection graphic


Application of sunscreen – common mistakes

The biggest problem with sunscreen is that it is not always applied correctly to the skin before sun exposure. Many people:

  • Apply sunscreen at about one-third of the thickness needed to provide adequate protection4. Applying sunscreen too thinly will reduce the Sun Protection Factor (SPF).
  • Fail to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of the skin.
  • Forget to reapply sunscreen every couple of hours or after heavy sweating or swimming.

How to correctly apply sunscreen

  • Apply your SPF 30+ sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside and always reapply at least every two hours.
  • It is important to use a generous amount: the average-sized adult should apply at least a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm, leg, front and back of body and at least half a teaspoon to the face (not forgetting the ears and neck).

Do sunscreens contain chemicals that are bad for you? 

The benefits of using sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays certainly outweigh any concerns over whether they contain chemicals that are bad for you. Chemical sunscreens (also called organic filters) work by absorbing UV radiation5 and often contain a combination of ingredients to provide coverage against both UVB and UVA radiation, which causes immunosuppression and DNA damage changes that may lead to skin cancer.

Small amounts of sunscreen ingredients have been found to be absorbed after regular use; however, there are no known harms from these ingredients being systemically absorbed by the skin5.

The Solar UV Index – what is it?

The UV Solar Index was developed by the World Health Organisation and it describes the level of solar UV radiation at the earth’s surface and the potential for skin damage.  The higher the index value, the greater the potential for damage to the skin and eyes.

UV Index graphic

The Met Office provides a UV Index forecast for the UK, which you can view here which can help you reduce your risk.

If you are worried about skin cancer, Check4Cancer offers SkinCheck, a skin cancer screening service for anyone aged 18+ who would like the appearance of their skin or moles checked by a skin cancer specialist. Early detection saves lives, book your skin cancer test online today.