How to stay safe in the sun

Stay safe in the sun with our expert guide to sun care


by Michelle Nightingale |

There's nothing quite as relaxing as feeling the warmth of the sun on our skin, but it's essential we do our best to stay safe in the sun and keep our skin protected from the skins harmful rays.

Even if we’re not sunbathing on a beach somewhere, our skin is still exposed to the sun year round, but especially during the spring and summer months, we need to be extra cautious when it comes to spending time outside.

Pottering around the garden, going for a walk or popping to the shops, it all adds up. Sun damage is the leading cause of skin cancer, yet statistics show a quarter of us Brits still don’t wear sun cream in the summer. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so there's never been a better time to help you stay safe in the sun.

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Sun exposure is also the biggest culprit when it comes to skin ageing. Dr Anjali Mahto is a Consultant Dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson. “The sun consists of multiple wavelengths of light and both UVA and UVB rays can penetrate and damage the skin,” she explains. “UVB rays are stronger in the summer and are the main cause of sunburn, whereas UVA rays are less intense but present all year round.” These UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and cause signs of ageing such as the appearance of pigmentation.

‘A sun cream with SPF 30 will block approximately 95 per cent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 will block around 97 per cent.’

Make sure you're getting enough vitamin D

Spending time outdoors in the fresh air is key to our good health – we just need to take sensible precautions. UVB rays play an important role in encouraging our bodies to produce Vitamin D. This is crucial for keeping our bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

Vitamin D is so important that Public Health England is now urging us all to take a Vitamin D supplement, over concerns that we’re spending less time outside due to Covid-19. The sun is also important for our mental health.

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“Studies show that decreased sun exposure causes a drop in serotonin (the happy hormone), which has been linked to depression,” explains Charlotte Vøhtz, founder of Green People. Whether you’re spending time in your garden, or heading out on a daily walk, a dose of sunshine will work wonders for your health.”

So, how do we stay sun safe and healthy? The good news is the time needed for our bodies to make adequate levels of Vitamin D is shorter than it takes for our skin to burn. Dermatologists recommend that for fair skin, just a few minutes in the middle of the day without sunscreen is enough. You’ll need a slightly longer exposure if you’re dark skinned, so it’s important to know how your skin tolerates the sun. Most importantly, don’t allow your skin to redden and burn.

How to be sun smart

Practise safe sun with these NHS guidelines

What kind of sunscreen should you use?

Use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or above. Also, look for the UVA circle logo, or at least a four-star UVA rating.

How much sunscreen should you apply?

Apply at least two teaspoons of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck. Apply at least two tablespoons if you're covering your whole body while wearing a swimming costume.

When should you apply sunscreen?

For prolonged sun exposure, apply 30 minutes before going out and then again just beforehand. Don't forget your neck, ears and your head.

How often should you reapply sunscreen?

Reapply liberally and frequently - at least every two hours - and straight after swimming or exercise.

Top tip: Wear a wide-brimmed hat to cover the areas that most commonly get burned including your head, neck and shoulders.

What do the signs mean on the suncream bottle?

Suncare chart

Can I use normal sun cream on my face or do I need a special face one?

A face cream with SPF might be sufficient in the depths of winter, but summer calls for a stronger defence. “Make-up with SPF is generally not applied thickly enough to get the SPF it states on the label,” warns Dr Mahto. “By the middle of the day when UV levels are highest it will have rubbed off and lost efficacy. It’s better to use a high-factor sunscreen for your face and reapply regularly.”

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