A version of this post originally appeared on the Which? Conversation blog – reproduced with permission.
Bin men may have been surprised by the number of half-used sunscreen bottles tumbling into their lorry recently. A report published by consumer watchdog Which? found that two out of 13 sunscreens they tested didn’t meet the level of protection (SPF) stated on the bottle.
It’s very important, of course, that products aren’t misleading, and that people can trust the claims they make.
And it’s worth remembering that while sunscreen can help there are other (and better) ways to protect your skin from too much sun.
No sunscreen offers 100 per cent protection – the most effective choices are to spend time in the shade, and to cover up with clothes. Although we all need some sun for healthy bones, it’s important to avoid sunburn and damage that can lead to skin cancer.
So whether you chucked away your sunscreen this morning or not, here are Cancer Research UK’s three key pieces of advice to help you enjoy the sun safely:
- Spend time in the shade when the sun is strong
In the UK summer, the sun’s usually strongest between 11am and 3pm. And despite some people’s view of this country’s weather, sunburn is often a risk. You don’t need to avoid the sun completely, but try to limit your time outdoors between these times – or pick a shady location.
Trees, gazebos and buildings can all provide shade, or of course you can retreat to a cool café for lunch. But make sure you’re really in the shade – surfaces like sand and concrete reflect light upwards – and be aware of the shady area changing with the sun.
- Cover up with clothes
T-shirt, a hat and sunglasses are great ways to protect your arms, shoulders and face from too much sun. Broad-brimmed or foreign ‘legion style’ hats are best, as they shade your face and neck.
Clothes with a closer weave offer better protection – a quick trick when shopping is to hold clothes up to the light and go for the outfit you can’t see through. Save gauzy or lacy cover-ups for the evening.
It’s also worth remembering that some materials, like cotton, get less protective when they’re wet because they stretch. Synthetic materials can be better and are a good choice to provide a bit more cover when you’re swimming. And if you’re wearing a t-shirt on over your cozzie, don’t forget your thighs and bottom – pop some shorts or leggings on too.
- Use plenty of sunscreen on the bits you can’t cover
Sunscreen is still a great way to help protect the parts you can’t cover – and waterproof varieties can be especially useful if you’re playing sport, have an outdoor job, or are working up a sweat in other ways.
As today’s Which? report highlights, a trendy brand or a hefty price tag doesn’t necessarily mean better. The most important information is the SPF (which shows how strong the protection against UVB is), and star rating (which ranks the level of UVA protection). Look for at least SPF 15 and 4 or more stars. And while not all sunscreens passed the Which? test, the majority did meet their claims.
But this bit’s really important: you won’t get the level of the protection on the bottle unless you put enough sunscreen on. An adult needs about two teaspoonfuls to cover their face and upper arms. It’s also important to reapply sunscreen regularly – it rubs, sweats and washes off easily, plus you may well have missed bits.
Even if you reapply, don’t use sunscreen as an excuse to stay out in the sun for longer – no sunscreen, regardless of its SPF and how closely you follow the instructions, can give 100 per cent protection from sunburn and skin cancer.
Whether you’re at home or abroad, have a wonderful summer – and don’t let sunburn spoil things.
- Sarah Williams is a health information manager at Cancer Research UK
Read more: Enjoying the sun safely