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Sun Awareness

Sun Awareness

Why do I need to protect my skin?

There are two types of ultra violet (UV) light in the sun's rays that can damage the skin, UVA and UVB. Both have been implicated in causing skin cancer.

As well as causing sunburn, excessive exposure to the sun is also responsible for premature ageing of the skin, resulting in 'age spots' and wrinkles.

How can I protect myself?

You need to protect yourself against excessive exposure to the sun, even in the UK. it is advisable to protect yourself between April and September in the UK, and always when abroad in sunny climates.

Remember that the sun's rays can penetrate water, glass, clouds and flimsy clothing, and are also reflected off water and snow.

Sun Advice

What type of clothes provide the best protection?

Closely woven dark coloured cotton clothing, for example, long sleeved tops and trousers, offer the best protection. To check the weave, hold the garment up to the light - you should not be able to see through it. In addition, loose fitting clothes provide more protection than those worn close to the body.

Some garments have an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) number, which indicates how much ultraviolet (UV) radiation passes through the clothing. For example, UPF 20 allows 1/20th of the UV radiation to pass through. 

Stretching fabrics decreases the protection they provide. Also, old, threadbare or faded garments may give less protection.


Sunscreens are creams and lotions that can protect against both UVA and UVB, although not all products offer UVA protection.

There are two 'ratings' systems on packs of sunscreen, the star rating and the SPF number.

Star Rating

The star rating system tells you how much protection the sunscreen gives against UVA. The number of stars ranges from one to five, and the higher the number of stars the better the protection. 

You should use a sunscreen with a rating of at least four stars.

SPF number

An SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number is a measure of the level of protection a product offers against UVB. The SPF number relates to the amount of time a person can stay out in the sun without burning when wearing that particular sunscreen.

For example, if you would normally begin to burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure, using a sunscreen with an SPF of 6 will allow you to stay out in the sun 6 times longer before beginning to burn (6 x 10 minutes = 1 hour).

Previous recommendations were to always use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. However, recent studies have shown that people do not apply a thick enough layer to obtain the SPF given on the bottle, which is developed under laboratory conditions.

We therefore recommend using a product with an SPF of 30 or greater.

Are there different types of Sunscreen?

YES. If you wish to swim or take part in other water activities you can use a water resistant or waterproof sunscreen. Water resistant sunscreen keeps its SPF during 40 minute of water activity, and waterproof sunscreen will keep you protected during 80 minutes of water activity. Waterproof sunscreens are considered to be sweat-proof as well.

How should I apply sunscreen and how much should I use?
Sunscreen application
You should apply one or two fingerstrips of sunscreen for each area of the body, as indicated. A fingerstrip of sunscreen is an amount that covers the whole of your finger, from the palm to the tip.

Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before you go into the sun and should be reapplied every 2 hours to all exposed areas. Always reapply sunscreen after swimming or when perspiring heavily.

Is it okay to use last years sunscreen?

NO. Sunscreen in opened containers will deteriorate and offer less protection. You should always discard any unused sunscreen after it has been open for six months.

Do I only need to use sunscreen in the summer?

In the UK, you do not need to use sunscreen in the winter. However, a winter sun can also cause damage to your skin if you are visiting a sunny but cold country, for example on a skiing holiday, particularly at high altitudes.

Why should I not use sunbeds?

Sunbeds are not a safe alternative to tanning outdoors. Like the sun, sunbeds give out harmful UV rays which damage the DNA in our skin cells and can cause skin cancer.

Why do I need to wear sunglasses?

UVA can cause cataracts. It is therefore important to wear good quality sunglasses.