Tips on staying safe in the sun

5 minute read time.
Tips on staying safe in the sun

It’s been a long wait this year but, with summer fast approaching, there are more opportunities to spend time outdoors and make the most of the warmer weather.

Small amounts of regular exposure to the sun, without the skin burning, are beneficial to our health. It helps our body make vitamin D, which keeps our bones, teeth, muscles and immune system healthy. However, you should avoid too much sun.

Why is it important to stay safe in the sun?

The ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun damages the DNA (genetic material) in our skin cells. This is the main cause of most skin cancers. The damage can happen from sun exposure over a long period of time or by being exposed to too much sun and getting sunburned.

Risk of skin cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
  • squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • melanoma.

BCCs and SCCs are different from melanoma.

Cases of skin cancer have increased in the last 10 years[1], and skin cancer is now one of the most common cancers in the UK. As we live longer, we spend more time in the sun during our lifetime. Like most cancers, skin cancers are more common as people get older. But melanoma is more common in younger people in their teens and 20s than some other cancers.

All  skin tones are at risk of sun damage and skin cancer.

Top tips to stay safe in the sun

Stay in the shade during the hottest times of day

  • avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm
  • try to sit in the shade during this time and even at other times of the day.

Cover up

  • wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and long-sleeved tops and trousers to cover up
  • wear clothing made of cotton or natural fibres that have a close weave – this gives more protection against the sun.

Use enough sunscreen

  • use sun cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30
  • choose one that protects against UVA and UVB, with 4 or 5 stars
  • follow the instructions on the bottle and re-apply as recommended, particularly after swimming
  • remember to apply sun cream on and behind your ears
  • make sure you use enough sun cream – about 6 to 8 teaspoons is enough to cover most adults
  • regularly check your skin when you are being exposed to the sun and do not let your skin burn.

Remember to protect your eyes

Always wear sunglasses in strong sunlight. While there it is not yet clear proof that overexposure to sunlight causes eye cancer, we know that UV light can cause short and long-term damage to the eyes.

Vitamin D

If you are not exposed to the sun often, you can ask your GP to check your vitamin D levels. They may prescribe supplements if you have low vitamin D levels.

When you need to take extra care

Following these tips will help make sure your skin does not burn in the sun. Although all skin tones are at risk of sun damage and skin cancer, take extra care if you:

  • have pale skin that tends to burn easily, goes red in the sun and does not tan
  • have freckles or red/fair hair
  • have many moles
  • are in hot weather, including when it is cloudy
  • have a medical condition that causes skin problems
  • have a family history of skin cancer
  • have had a previous diagnosis of skin cancer
  • are undergoing cancer treatment - certain drugs and treatments can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight – these include radiotherapy, chemotherapy and some targeted therapies or immunotherapies.

have a weakened immune system (lowered immunity), for example if you have had a heart or lung transplant, have HIV or HPV, or have a type of blood cancer such as chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

Macmillan’s partnership with Soltan

Soltan are Macmillan’s Official Sun Safety Partner for a second year, working together to try to ensure everyone has access to the information and protection they need to stay safe in the sun. Soltan and Macmillan recommend using a sun cream with a minimum SPF of 30+ together with a 5-star UVA and UVB protection. Soltan was the first sun care brand to develop the UVA rating. All Soltan products have the 5-star UVA rating, giving you maximum protection. For more information about the partnership, please visit our website.

What is SPF? SPF stands for sun protection factor and indicates the level of protection that a sun cream can offer against sunburn. If your skin tends to go red or burn after 10 minutes in the sun, applying an SPF 30 sunscreen will protect you for 30 times longer than that.

Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is the main cause of most skin cancers. Sunbeds also give out UV rays that can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.  There are two main types of ultraviolet (UV) rays that damage our skin and cause skin cancer[2]: UVA and UVB.

  • UVB rays are responsible for causing most sunburns and skin cancers. 
  • UVA rays penetrate the skin at a deeper level and can cause the skin to age. These rays can also contribute to sunburn and to skin cancer forming but less so than UVB rays.

Boots Mole Scanning Service

Did you know that a Mole Scanning Service is available in Boots pharmacies? Although unable to provide a diagnosis of skin cancer, ScreenCancer Dermatology Specialists can analyse an image of a  mole or pigmented lesion to help identify whether it may need further investigation.

The service is operated by ScreenCancer with assistance from trained members of selected Boots pharmacy teams. Available in selected stores only. Subject to suitably trained team member availability. Eligibility criteria and charges apply. You can find out more information about this service on the Boots website.

If you are concerned about any of your moles, please see your GP.

Further resources

We have more information about protecting your skin if you have had skin cancer on our website.

You can also order our easy read booklet Stay healthy – be safe in the sun.




This content has been updated in May 2023. 

  • Im having chemo at the moment am i allowed to sit in the sun or not keep getting different answers ?

  • Hi estartit,

    My name is Dylan and I work in the Online Community Team. Thank you for asking your question here. Some chemotherapy drugs can make your skin more sensitive. This can sometimes last for several years after treatment. We always recommend that you ask your cancer doctor or specialist nurse if you need to take special care to protect your skin.

    You can read more about taking care in the sun i
    f you have had chemotherapy, here on the Macmillan website.

    If you ever want to ask a Macmillan nurse a medical question, you can do so in our Ask a Nurse section, where once you post any questions you may have surrounding diagnosis, treatment and medication. They will aim to respond within 1 to 3 working days. Please keep in mind, Macmillan do not have access to any medical records. You should always seek information from your medical team first.

    I hope this information helps. 

    Best wishes,