We all know the dangers of too much sunshine, but exactly how much do you know about staying safe in the sun?
While it’s easy enough to remember our sunscreen, many of us are making mistakes when we apply it, or slipping up when it comes to protecting our skin in other ways.
Take our quick quiz, answering A, B or C to each question, then check your score below to discover your sunshine IQ.
Q1. Do we still need to worry about skin cancer?
- No – skin cancer treatments are very effective these days
- Yes – skin cancer rates are still rising in the UK
- Not really – most of us are pretty sun aware by now
Q2. What factor sunscreen do most Brits need to stay safe in the sun?
- British sunshine isn’t strong enough to burn
- Between SPF 15 and SPF 30, depending on your skin type
- Only an SPF 50+ will stop you burning
Q3. Experts now say we should spend how long outside every day to make enough vitamin D?
- 10-15 minutes at midday
- Little and often throughout the day
- We get enough vitamin D from our food
Q4. Which are the ultraviolet rays (UV) that can burn the skin?
Q5. How much sunscreen do you need to cover your body?
- Two blobs the size of 50p pieces
- One full teaspoon per limb, your chest, and back
- A handful for each body part
We do need to worry about sun safety, as skin cancer rates are still rising. Around 13,350 people in the UK were diagnosed with malignant melanoma (the more serious type of skin cancer) in 2011, leading to 2,150 deaths in 2012. One major cause is the boom in cheap package holidays, which increase our exposure to stronger sunshine.
Protect yourself – yes, even in British sunshine – by using the right SPF for your skin type; lighter skins need a higher SPF than darker skins. Also make sure it has a five-star UVA and UVB protection. UVA rays are the ones that age your skin and damage DNA, while UVB rays burn the skin, raising your risk of skin cancer. UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer.
We do still need to produce vitamin D, but you can do this without burning. Many sources say you can make enough vitamin D by going outside at midday during the summer for 10-15 minutes without sunscreen. But experts now offer slightly different advice – see the answers below to find out more.
You know a lot about sun safety but could still be making mistakes, such as putting your sunscreen on incorrectly. Most of us need one teaspoon’s worth of sunscreen per limb, but studies show we only put on around half that amount. So, if you start off with an SPF 50, but apply it badly, you get around an SPF 30, which is still fine. But if you start with a 15, this can go down to 7.5. To keep our skin protected, experts now recommend a minimum SPF 30 for lighter skin types.
When it comes to vitamin D, a joint committee of seven leading organisations, including the British Association of Dermatologists and Cancer Research UK, recently evaluated all the evidence and concluded that ‘regularly going outside for a matter of minutes around the middle of the day without sunscreen should be enough.’
But rather than sticking rigidly to the 10-15 minutes rule, they recommend ‘casual, everyday exposure’ to produce enough vitamin D. ‘When it comes to sun exposure, little and often is best’, they said. So popping to the shops without sunscreen should be OK, but if you’re going to be out for longer – especially at midday – make sure you’re wearing sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
You’re right that we do need a strong SPF, but skin cancer experts warn many of us are relying on higher SPFs for extended protection, putting our skin at risk; we stay out in the sun for longer, lulled into a false sense of security. Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen frequently, especially after swimming or sweating a lot.
It’s also important to expose your skin – without sunscreen – to sunshine to produce vitamin D. There are some fears that overzealous sun safety can lead to a vitamin D deficiency. If you’re really sun averse, you can also find vitamin D in oily fish, egg yolks, meat, fortified spreads and cereals, but sun exposure is the most effective way to boost our levels.
The time it takes your skin to produce enough vitamin D is typically less than the time it takes your skin to redden and burn, so the expert committee is now urging everyone to get to know their own skin type to understand how long we can spend outside in different conditions; lighter skins may need less than 15 minutes, while darker skins may need longer. Check UV ratings before you leave home to help plan your sun safety routine.
Get more advice on staying safe in the sun in our seasonal health guides.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies