To protect your skin, stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm, when the sun's UV rays are strongest. Look for shady areas under trees, and use umbrellas or canopies.
Watch the UV index
The UV index describes the strength of the sun's UV radiation. It's usually shown as a number in a triangle on a weather map. The numbers range from one to 11+ and the higher the number, the stronger the UV radiation. Depending on your skin type, you might need protection when the UV index is anything over three.
In many countries, the UV index is reported alongside the weather forecast in newspapers, on TV and on the radio.
You can protect your skin by wearing long-sleeved tops and trousers. Choose materials that have a close weave as these block out the most UV rays. Wet clothing stretches and lets more UV radiation through to your skin. You can now buy sun protection factor (SPF) clothing and sun suits, which help to protect your skin from UV radiation.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can reduce the amount of UV radiation reaching your face.
Sunglasses help to protect your eyes and eyelids. Wraparound sunglasses will also protect the skin around your eyes. You should choose a pair of sunglasses that has the following labels:
- 100 percent UV protection
- UV 400 — this means it protects from both UVA and UVB rays
If you're buying a pair of sunglasses in Europe, check that they also carry the European Standard CE mark and the British Standard (BE EN 1836:1997). If you’re buying sunglasses in Australia or New Zealand, it’s recommended that they carry the Australia/New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS1067: 2003). In America the Standard is ANSI Z80.3-2001.
Always use broad spectrum sunscreen. This means that it protects your skin against UVA and UVB rays. Make sure it has a SPF of 15 or higher. The SPF tells you how good the sunscreen is at filtering out the UVB rays. UVA protection is measured with a star rating. Sunscreens can have between zero and five star UVA protection — opt for one with at least four stars.
Sunscreen can't give you complete protection since some UV rays will always get through, but you will get more than 90 percent protection from UVB rays with SPF 15.
Use sunscreens generously. You should use about two teaspoons of sunscreen for you head, neck and arms, and two tablespoons for your whole body when wearing a swimsuit. Re-apply sunscreen every two hours or more often if you go swimming, or sweat a lot. Water reflects the sun's rays so you need to apply sunscreen before swimming.
Cloud doesn't stop the sun's UV rays getting through so you should protect yourself even if it's cloudy. Haze (from thin clouds or mist) can even increase your UV radiation exposure because the rays are scattered.
You should check your moles regularly for changes that may indicate skin cancer. Most changes are harmless, but you should see a doctor if you notice:
- growth of an existing mole — especially over 7mm (a quarter of an inch) in diameter
- a mole with an uneven or ragged edge
- a mole of varying shades of colour
- a mole with an inflamed or red edge
- a mole that bleeds, oozes or crusts
- a mole that feels different, painful or itches
Don't use sunbeds
Sunbeds mimic the effect of the sun and give out artificial UVA and UVB radiation. Exposure to artificial UV radiation can also damage your skin. Sunbeds have been linked to premature wrinkles and an increased risk of skin cancer. They can also damage your eyes.
An artificial tan from a sunbed doesn't protect your skin against sunburn on holiday; it's similar to using a sunscreen with SPF 2 to 3.
There are no regulations relating to the use of sunbeds, but the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that you should never use a sunbed if you:
- are under 18
- have sunburn, burn easily or had frequent sunburn as a child
- have a lot of moles
- tend to freckle
- have pre-cancerous or cancerous skin lesions
- are wearing cosmetic products (these may make you more sensitive to UV radiation)
- are taking medication (you should seek medical advice to check whether your medication will make you particularly sensitive to UV radiation)
- have someone in the family who has had skin cancer
You can't feel UV rays. The warmth you feel on your skin is actually caused by the sun's infrared radiation. So just because you can't feel the hot rays of the sun, it doesn't mean you won't get sunburnt.
The amount of UV radiation is generally lower during the winter but snow reflects most of the sun's rays, so you can still get sunburnt. If you're high up in the mountains, there is less atmosphere to block out the UV rays, so make sure you use sunscreen.