Five ways to stay safe in the sun

Dermatology Clinical Lead at Bupa UK
21 May 2019

With the arrival of the summer sun, often comes trips to the beach and picnics in the park. Getting outdoors for some sun can be good for both your physical and mental health. This is because the sun helps your body to produce vitamin D, and the longer, brighter days can improve your mood. But spending too much time in the sun, whether you’re at home or abroad, can also be harmful for your health. Here I’ll share my top tips for staying safe, so you can enjoy the much-anticipated summer sunshine.

How can too much sun affect your health?

Although there’s much to be enjoyed when the sun is shining, the sun also brings with it serious health risks, particularly during the summer months. In some cases it may lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke, especially if you’re not used to hot weather.

The sun gives out ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is made up of UVA, UVB and UVC rays. The most serious harm the sun can cause is to increase your risk of getting skin cancer. UVB rays (the same ones that help you to generate vitamin D) can also damage the DNA in your skin cells. If this DNA damage builds up over time, cells can start growing out of control, which can lead to skin cancer. More than eight out of 10 cases of melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer) are linked to overexposure to UV rays.

An infographic explaining how to stay safe in the sun

Click to open a PDF version of our sun safety infographic (0.4MB)

Tips for staying safe in the sun

Help ensure you’re well protected from UV rays, by following these tips.

1. Use sunscreen

It’s important to prevent your skin from burning by using a good quality sunscreen. So invest in a product that:

  • displays the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle on the packaging
  • has a star rating of 4 or 5 — this is the level of protection from UVA rays
  • is at least SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 30 or more — this is the level of protection from UVB rays
  • is water-resistant if you’re going in water or will be sweating a lot
  • is still in-date and hasn’t been opened for more than one year

Apply plenty of sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside and reapply at least every two hours, even if it starts to appear cloudy. Make sure you get good coverage — including your ears, lips and neck. And remember that even if you use water-resistant sunscreen, you’ll still need to reapply straight after you’ve been in water.

2. Wear protective clothing

Protect your skin from UV rays by wearing loose clothes that cover your skin, such as long-sleeved tops and trousers made from breathable fabrics. Some clothing now includes details of the UPF (UV Protection Factor) on the label too. The higher the UPF, the less UV radiation will reach your skin through the fabric. If you can’t find the UPF, holding clothes up to the light will help give you an idea of how much sunlight gets through, and those with a tighter weave should offer more protection.

Don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses too. Choose sunglasses that fit well, display a CE mark on the label and offer 100% UV protection.

3. Check the UV index

The UV index tells you how strong the UV rays are in your area at a particular time. The higher the UV index, the easier it is for your skin to burn and become damaged. If you have pale skin and the UV index in your area is above three, you’ll need to take steps to protect your skin. You can find out the UV index where you are on the Met Office website.

4. Seek out shade

The sun’s rays are strongest around midday when the sun is highest in the sky — usually between 11am and 3pm. So avoid sitting in the sun at these times and seek shade if you can.

Sunlight also reflects off surfaces like water, sand, concrete and snow, and even in shaded areas can damage your skin and eyes. If you do head outdoors during this time, it’s a good idea to bring an umbrella with you or find some shade to sit under.

5. Drink plenty of water

When the temperature rises, your body sweats more to try and cool you down. So it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to ensure you stay hydrated when it’s hot out. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day or more if you’re feeling thirsty. As well as water, tea, coffee, fruit juice, smoothies and low-fat milk all count towards your daily fluid intake. But remember to limit fruit juice and smoothies to one 150ml glass per day as these can be high in sugar. Try to steer clear of alcoholic drinks, as alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee more and can leave you even more dehydrated.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

Dr Stephanie Munn
Dermatology Clinical Lead at Bupa UK

    • Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)., published February 2016.
    • Vitamin D. The MSD Manuals., last reviewed March 2018.
    • How does the sun and UV cause cancer? Cancer Research UK., last reviewed April 2019
    • Ways to enjoy the sun safely. Cancer Research UK., last reviewed April 2019.
    • Healthy hydration. British Nutrition Foundation., accessed 10 May
    • Heatstroke. Medscape., last updated November 2018.
    • What are simple action steps for sun protection? World Health Organisation., reviewed December 2014.
    • Melanoma: prevention. BMJ Best Practice., last updated June 2018.
    • A summary of key messages to be included in public information resources for the primary prevention of skin cancer. British Association of Dermatologists, January 2009.
    • Personal communication, Dr Stephanie Munn, Dermatology Clinical Lead at Bupa UK, May 2019.

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