Sun Awareness Week banner showing someone in a bikini in the sun.

With summer just around the corner, we want to raise awareness of the harmful effects of the sun as well as let you all know the safe way to enjoy the sunshine. So as part of Sun Awareness Week, this blog answers some important questions about sun protection.

The sun, UV light and skin cancer 

Lots of us enjoy being outside, especially on a sunny day. And experts recommend regular exposure to a small amount of sunshine. This helps our bodies make vitamin D, which keeps our bones and teeth healthy and helps our immune system.   

But, it is important to be aware of the damage that too much sun exposure can cause, and know how to protect your skin. Research shows that sun damage greatly increases the risk of developing skin cancers. And the number of people getting skin cancer in the UK is rising.

People with fair skin, who have red or blonde hair, green or blue eyes and freckles, are more sensitive to the sun. Because of their skin type, they burn more easily. Having naturally darker skin lowers your risk of skin cancer, but it can still happen. 

Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun damages the DNA in our skin. With too much sun exposure skin may burn or turn a darker colour (a tan). These are both signs of skin damage.  

Sunbeds use artificial UV rates. Using them increases the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. The more you use a sunbed or lamp, and the earlier in life you begin using them, the greater your risk.

Why should we use suncream? 

The best protection against the sun is to cover up and to stay out of strong sunlight during the hottest part of the day – usually between 11am and 3pm, but try to sit in the shade even at other times of the day.

However, if you do choose to go outside, remember to apply suncream. Suncream helps to stop the sun’s harmful rays from reaching our skin. Suncreams work by either absorbing or reflecting the harmful UVA and UVB radiation away from our skin.

What suncream should I choose?

There are many brands and strengths of suncream available to us and it can be confusing to know which one to choose.


It is important to look out for the SPF label. This stands for ‘sun protection factor’ and indicates the strength of protection against harmful UVB radiation. SPF ranges from 6 to 50+, with 50+ offering the most protection. It has been recommended that a suncream of at least SPF 30 is used, in addition to wearing protective clothing and staying in shaded areas.

UVA star rating

The UVA star rating on suncream ranges from 0 to 5 stars and indicates the protection against UVA radiation.

Image shows the 1-5 star UVA ratings. One star is minimum, two stars is moderate, three stars is good, four stars is superior, and five stars is ultra

It is important to choose a suncream that has 4 or 5 stars, alongside an SPF of at least 30. A suncream that provides the recommended protection against UVA will be marked with the UVA logo:
Image of the UVA logo, which is a circle with the letters U-V-A inside.
How should suncream be applied?
It is important to apply the correct amount of suncream required to offer adequate sun protection. Make sure to read the application instructions on the bottle, as different brands can vary.

Top tips

Apply generously (minimum of 6-8 teaspoons of lotion for the average sized adult ).
Apply 30 minutes before you leave the house to allow the suncream to dry and be absorbed.
Re-apply the suncream every 2 hours, or after swimming, towel drying, perspiring, or other strenuous activity.
Don’t store suncream in hot places and always check the expiry date before you use it.

Will my make-up offer enough protection?

Some make-up and moisturisers contain SPF protection. These can offer some protection against the sun, but shouldn’t be relied on or used as a replacement to suncream, as they are often applied thinly and can be rubbed off easily.

How else can we protect ourselves from sun damage? 

Wear clothing made of cotton or natural fibres as they give more protection against the sun. Keep your legs and arms covered by wearing long sleeves and trousers.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, neck and ears.
Wear good quality sunglasses with a guaranteed ultraviolet (UV) light filter.
Remember you can still get sunburnt when it’s cloudy, so take the same precautions.
Don’t use a sunbed or sunlamp. If you like to look tanned, use fake tan lotions or sprays.

To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

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The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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