Staying safe in the summer sun
Monday 21 May 2018

As we come into the summer months, we can look forward to some welcome sunshine – but while we know the sun’s rays can be damaging, what are the best ways to enjoy the summer and yet stay safe?

The summer months, and maybe even a holiday somewhere hot and sunny, are almost upon on. A chance to spend more time outside, soak up some rays and get some colour in our cheeks.

UV rays

We all know the connection the sun and skin cancer. Over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from either the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of skin cancer. In fact, almost nine out of 10 cases of melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer) could be prevented by avoiding UV rays.

The damage that causes skin cancer can be either due to long-term exposure to UV rays, or short periods where the skin has burned.

UV light damages the DNA in the skin cells. This can build up over time and cause the cells to start growing out of control – which is what can lead to skin cancer.


Getting sunburnt is the most obvious sign that the DNA in the skin cells has been damaged. And some people are more susceptible to sunburn than others, and so need to be more careful.

Those who have fair coloured skin tend to burn more easily, which means they have a higher risk of skin cancer. This is because they have less melanin – a protective pigment. People with darker skin burn less easily and so have a lower risk.

However, recent research has found that genetics also dictate how susceptible someone is to sunburn, and so two people who have a similar complexion may find that one burns easily and the other doesn’t.

Slip, Slop, Slap!

In Australia, where sun protection is even more vital, a hugely successful campaign was run in the 1980s about how to protect yourself in the sun – the ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ campaign. The campaign encouraged people to ‘slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat’ in order to protect themselves against skin cancer.

The campaign was extended some years later to include two additional ‘Ss’ – seek shade and slide on sunglasses.

Sun safety

The advice from down under is very similar to the advice that is given in the UK. Cancer Research UK advises that enjoying the sun safety and protecting from sunburn involves: spending time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm; covering up with clothes, a hat and sunglasses; and using sunscreen with a protection level of at least SPF15, and using it generously and regularly.

Similar advice is given by the NHS, and they reiterate that extra care should be taken with children, and that it is important to make sure you don’t burn.

Eye protection

Did you know that your eyes can burn in the sun? Without protection, the surface of the eye can be temporarily burned, in a similar way to sunburn of the skin. There is a particular risk of this when sunlight is reflected from snow, sand or water.

So those sunglasses are not just to stop you squinting or to make you look good!

Vitamin D

The sun isn’t all bad though – the UV rays help the body to produce vitamin D, which we all need to maintain healthy bones.

So it is all about balance – get out there and enjoy the sunshine, but make sure you protect your skin and eyes first.

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