How To Stay Safe In The Sun

Spring has sprung and summer is finally on its way. This means that we’ll all be spending more time outdoors, exposed to the sun. To make sure you have the best summer possible, without the pain of sunburn, it’s important to take steps to protect your skin.

Monday 1st to Sunday 7th May 2023 marks Sun Awareness Week in the UK. The aim is to raise awareness around sun protection and skin cancer, the most common cancer in the UK to date, with at least 100,000 people diagnosed each year.

To help you stay safe in the sun, we’re taking a look at the health risks of sun exposure you should be aware of, how to best care for your skin in the sun, and signs of skin cancer to look out for.

Health risks of sun exposure

Spending time in the sun certainly has its benefits — as well as being a natural mood booster, sun exposure is also critical in the production of vitamin D that’s needed to keep your bones healthy.

However, UV rays from the sun can also cause damage to your skin, which can cause premature ageing (photoaging), such as lines, wrinkles and sunspots, as well as skin cancer. In fact, severe sunburn, particularly in childhood, is the largest risk factor for developing skin cancer in later life.

There are 2 main types of UV rays; UVB and UVA. UVB rays are responsible for tanning and sunburn and are thought to cause most types of skin cancers. UVA rays reach deeper into the skin, mainly causing ageing but also contributing to sunburn and skin cancer risk.

As well as affecting your skin, UV rays can also damage your eyes which can cause or contribute to the development of conditions including photokeratitis, cataracts or macular degeneration.

So, while we all know how relaxing it can be to sunbathe on the beach, soak up the rays while gardening or sit in the sun at a BBQ, you must take precautions when spending time in the sun in order to protect the health of your skin and eyes, and reduce your risk of skin cancer.

How to stay safe in the sun

Thankfully, there are lots of ways you can protect your skin from the sun. It’s important you do so throughout the year, but especially in the summer months when the sun is stronger.

Follow our sun safety tips to make sure your skin is protected.

Apply SPF 30+ sunscreen (and reapply!)

Although no sunscreen can provide complete protection, wearing a high-factor SPF is one of the best things you can do to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

When choosing your sunscreen it’s important to look for a product that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 (which refers to the level of protection against UVB radiation), and at least 4-star UVA protection. A good sunscreen will protect you from both UVA and UVB light — look for products that are labelled as ‘broad-spectrum’ or ‘multi-spectrum’.

Using a waterproof sunscreen is also best, even if you are not swimming, as it lasts longer against sweat.

It may surprise you how much sunscreen you need to apply for maximum protection. If you’re using a lotion or cream, a thick line of sunscreen from the tip of your middle finger down to your wrist should be used for each area of your body. If you’re using a spray, spray 15 times for each area.

When and how often you apply your sunscreen is also important. It’s recommended that you apply your sunscreen 30 minutes before going into the sun, and reapply it every two hours — or even more often if you swim or sweat a lot.

While sunscreen is especially important in the summer, it’s wise to wear it all year round. UVA rays can still reach your skin on cloudy days and can even penetrate through glass.

Seek shade

To best protect your skin, it’s important to combine the use of high-SPF sunscreen with other steps such as staying in the shade and wearing protective clothing (more on this below).

Staying in the shade is a great way to protect your skin. It’s best to avoid the sun whenever you can, but particularly in the middle of the day — between 11am and 3pm — when the sun is typically at its strongest.

It’s especially wise to stay out of the sun's harsh rays if you're fair-skinned, as just 10 minutes of strong sunshine is all it takes to burn pale skin. Babies and toddlers should always be kept in the shade.

Sun protection clothing

Sometimes the sun's rays can’t be avoided — for example, when you’re swimming, walking, working or exercising outdoors. In these cases, as well as applying SPF, wearing protective clothing can help protect your skin.

Dressing in loose-fitting clothing such as long-sleeved tops, shirts, trousers and long skirts made of light, breathable fabrics like cotton and linen can help protect your shoulders, arms and legs while also keeping you cool.

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can also help protect the skin on your face, scalp, ears and neck.


To take care of your eyes, make sure you always wear sunglasses with the EU CE mark which has built-in UV protection. Look for a pair that also has the ‘UV400’ mark as these will protect your eyes against 99% of UV light.

Opt for big frames or a wrap-around style. This will help stop light from entering your eyes from the side.

After-sun care tips

After spending time in the sun, cool yourself down with a cold shower or by applying a damp, cool towel to your skin.

If your skin is burnt, it’s important to treat it correctly. Things you can do to care for and soothe sore, red skin include:

  • Get out of the sun as soon as you notice your skin is pink, red or stinging
  • Regularly apply an after-sun gel, cream or lotion that contains aloe vera
  • Apply cold compresses to the affected areas
  • Take cool showers
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay cool and hydrated
  • Stay out of the sun and wear protective clothing until the skin has fully healed
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Don’t pop any blisters and don’t exfoliate or peel off any flaking skin

Signs of skin cancer and when to seek help

It’s important to check your skin once a month for any changes in your skin or moles. Most moles are harmless, but sometimes, they can become cancerous.

You should get your moles checked for cancer if you notice that any of your moles have:

  • Changed shape, size or depth
  • Have an uneven shape or texture
  • Have edges that are ragged, blurred or irregular
  • Changed colour, become darker or are more than two colours
  • Started itching, bleeding, crusting or flaking

Checking your Skin PNG

Make an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist as soon as you notice any new moles or if any existing ones have changed in size, shape or appearance. This could be a sign of skin cancer.

You can read more about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer to look out for in our What is Skin Cancer? guide.

Book a skin cancer screening

If you’re concerned about your skin or would like to have your skin checked by an expert, make a Check4Cancer SkinCheck appointment today.

SkinCheck is a fast-track service that provides a thorough skin cancer examination and mole check, with high-quality dermoscopic images taken of any suspicious changes. Our reporting team of consultant skin cancer specialists will provide results and professional skin care guidance within five days. If any suspicious skin changes are identified, we’ll help you with a referral to your doctor or a private specialist for further testing.

Book a SkinCheck appointment today.