Top tips for sun protection


11 June 2021

Many of us head straight outside when the sun's out, but often forget to take the necessary precautions in order to help protect our skin.

Although a suntan may look great, the long-term effects it can have on your skin in just a few years are not healthy.

A tan is the body's attempt to protect you from the sun's harmful rays, which, over time can seriously harm you.

Enjoy the sunshine safely this summer by following the tips below:

Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm

One of the best ways to protect yourself from the sun's harmful UV rays is to find shade under trees, umbrellas, canopies or indoors.

  • UV rays are invisible and cannot be felt on the skin (the heat of the sun comes from infrared rays instead). UV rays penetrate deeply into our cells, causing changes that lead to sunburn, skin ageing, eye damage and skin cancer.
  • When travelling abroad, a simple way to find out when the sun's rays are at their strongest is to look at your shadow - if it is shorter than your height this means that the sun's UV rays are strong. During these times you need to be careful about avoiding sunburn. Seek shade if you are going to be out for a long time.

Covering up

When there's no shade around, the best way to protect your skin from the sun is with loose clothing, a wide brimmed hat and good quality sunglasses.

  • The more skin that is covered by your clothing, the better the protection. Look for materials with a close weave, as they will block out the most UV rays. Holding the material up to the light is a good way to see how much light and UV rays will get through.
  • Be aware that when some clothes get wet, they stretch and allow more UV rays through to your skin. This is particularly a problem for cotton clothes. A wet cotton t-shirt may only offer half the protection of a dry one.

Choosing sunglasses

As well as damaging the skin, overexposure to UV rays can damage the eyes too. Too much UV light exposure can lead to cataracts as well as rare types of eye cancer. Wearing sunglasses in strong sunlight can help protect the eyes from damage.

When choosing sunglasses look for one of the following:

  • The 'CE Mark' and British Standard (BS EN 1836:1997)
  • A UV 400 label
  • A statement that the sunglasses offer 100% UV protection 

Make sure that the glasses offer protection at the side of the eye. The wraparound style of glasses are popular in Australia where sun safety is very important.

Buying sunscreens

Sunscreens can be useful for protecting our skin from the sun's rays. However, they will not protect us completely from sun damage on their own. This is why we recommend using sunscreens together with shade or clothing to avoid getting caught out by sunburn.

You should never use sunscreen in order to spend longer in the sun.

What to look for in a sunscreen:

  • A Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 - the higher the factor of sunscreen the better.
  • "Broad-spectrum" sunscreens with a star rating of four stars or more.
  • Brands that have not gone past their expiry date - most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years.

Using sunscreen effectively:

  • Apply to clean, dry skin.
  • Apply plenty of sunscreen and reapply it regularly. Sunscreen can be easily washed, rubbed or sweated off.
  • Even sunscreens that claim to be 'waterproof' should be reapplied after going in the water.
  • Use sunscreen together with shade and clothing to avoiding getting caught out by sunburn.
  • Don't be tempted to spend longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen.
  • Do not store sunscreens in very hot places as extreme heat can ruin their protective chemicals.
  • Don't forget to check the expiry date on your sunscreen. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years but ensure your sunscreen has not expired before you use it.

Source: Cancer Research UK.

Further information

Skin cancer causes and risks | AXA Health

Skin conditions | AXA health information hub

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