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How to protect yourself from the sun

SunJacqui Jones, Liz Nightingale and Judy Bridge, Macmillan skin cancer clinical nurse specialists, on how to protect yourself from the sun

Now the summer months are here, many of us will be enjoying spending time in the sun.

Exposure to the sun is important in order to keep your body healthy and encourage vitamin D production. Too much exposure though can lead to skin damage and the development of skin cancer, the most common cancer in the UK. Every year around 13,000 people living in the UK develop skin cancer.

The sun produces ultraviolet (UV) radiation and there are two types of UV rays that can damage our skin. Firstly UVA radiation penetrates deep into the skin and causes long term damage like wrinkles, sagging and discolouration. Secondly UVB radiation penetrates the superficial layer of the skin and is the main cause of sunburn.

These changes may lead to skin cancer and the simple fact that your skin has changed colour is a sign of damage. But the good news is that skin cancer can be prevented by adopting some simple and inexpensive suncare habits.

To keep safe in the sun, you should adhere to these guidelines:

  • Sunscreen: Apply SPF 30+ sunscreen with a four-five star UVA rating, every two hours. Use a waterproof sunscreen on children over three years when swimming and reapply immediately after towelling. It is important to use a generous amount and if you apply the sunscreen too thinly, it will reduce the SPF factor. Follow the instructions on the sunscreen closely.
  • Sunhat. Wear a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears
  • Sunglasses. Wear wrap-around sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes
  • Shade. Seek shade or cover up – particularly between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its strongest. Keep toddlers and babies in the shade as much as possible, particularly when abroad.

We are all at risk of skin cancer; however, people that fit into the following list have a greater risk and need to take particular care:

  • Fair skin that burns easily
  • Red or fair hair
  • Lots of moles and/or freckles
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A history of sun burn
  • Outdoor workers and those with outdoor hobbies e.g. golf, cricket, fishing, gardening etc.

You can still go out and enjoy the weather but make sure you take steps to help protect your skin. Looking after your skin and making healthy lifestyle choices will help prevent skin problems.

For more information on skin cancer prevention, visit

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