How to stay safe in the sun

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and rates continue to rise. At least 100,000 new cases are now diagnosed each year, and the disease kills over 2,500 people each year in the UK - that's seven people every day. 

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause damage to the skin and lead to skin cancer. In fact, UV exposure is the main preventable cause of skin cancer. 

Experiencing severe sunburn, particularly in childhood, increases the risk of developing skin cancer in later life, so it's very important to protect yourself and your family from the sun. 

Here are the line of defence to protect against the sun. Use them all to stay safe...

Clothing and a hat

Clothing should always be your first line of defence against damage from the sun. 

Cover as much of the skin as is possible, paying special attention to the shoulders which burn easily. 

Consider t-shirts and hats even when in the water, especially for children and those who burn easily. 

A 'legionnaire' style hat with a wide brim is best, as it will shade the head, face, ears and neck. Baseball caps do not shade the ears or neck, and so are not as effective. 


UV radiation can also damage the eyes, and so sunglasses with good quality lenses that filter out the UV are essential. Those with an EU CE Mark are proven to offer safe protection. 

Styles that wrap around, and so do not allow sun in at the sides are better. 

SPF 30+ Sunscreen

No sunscreen provides absolute protection, so it should be used with the other lines of defence, and not alone. 

Generously apply sunscreen with SPF30 or more to all areas of skin exposed to the sun. A waterproof sunscreen is better, even if you are not swimming, as it protects you better if you sweat. 

Apply the sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going outside, and at least every 2 hours. If you swim or sweat a lot, use it more often. Remember using a towel or lying back on a fabric sunbed can rub the sunscreen off. 

SPF stands for 'Sun Protection Factor' and refers to the level of protection against UVB radiation, linked to skin cancer. Look for a 4 or ideally 5 star UVA rating on the bottle which will help protect from UVA radiation, associated with skin ageing. 

Check the expiry date of your sunscreen, as out of date sunscreen will not be as effective and you risk burning. 

Don't forget to protect your lips - using a SPF30+ lip balm. 


Keeping cool in the shade is a good way of protecting yourself from the sun, especially if you are very fair skinned. Just 10 minutes of strong sunshine is all it takes to burn pale skin. Find some shade whenever possible, but especially in the middle of the day, between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is at its strongest. 

Always keep babies and toddlers in the shade if you can. 


Most skin cancers can be cured if detected early. About once a month, check your skin for moles or marks that are changing or new. This is especially important if you are at increased risk of skin cancer. Tell your doctor about any changes to a mole or patch of skin, or a new mole or mark on adult skin. 

More information

Order sun safety leaflets and posters 

What is skin cancer?    Skin cancer risks    Checking your skin