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Show your kids how to stay safe in the sun: British parents protect their children but neglect their own sun protection

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by Cancer Research UK | News

26 July 2018

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Photo of a woman in a sun hat

Research from NIVEA SUN and Cancer Research UK reveals the extent of parents’ confusion around sun protection, and the potential harm to their health as well as that of their children

“You can use the ‘shadow rule’ to work out whether the sun is strong. Simply look at your shadow and if it’s shorter than your height that means the sun’s UV rays are strong. This is also a good trick to teach your kids!” – Sarah Williams, health information manager at Cancer Research UK

As the school summer holidays start across the country, NIVEA SUN, as part of their partnership with Cancer Research UK, has released new YouGov data today which shows the suncare habits of British parents.  The data reveals that many parents are not protecting their own skin well enough from strong sun with over half of parents surveyed (53%) admitted to getting sunburnt in the UK in the last 12 months.

The research also reveals the confusion among parents about sun safety, in particular around UV and SPF, which could cause potential harm to their children’s long-term health.

The survey, which asked 1110 parents of children aged 18 or under about their behaviour in the sun, found that almost two thirds of parents (63%) admit they were more likely to protect their skin from the sun when they are abroad than in the UK.  Cancer Research UK and NIVEA SUN advise that the sun can be strong in the UK as well as abroad, so it’s not just on holiday that you need to think about protecting your skin.

The need to protect skin in the UK is underlined by data revealing you don’t need to be sunbathing to get sunburnt – with British parents saying their own gardens were the most common place to get burnt (24%), followed by the beach (22%), doing DIY outside (10%) and shopping (5%), meaning that they’re both uncomfortable in the short-term and could be left with lasting skin damage in the long-term.

The survey revealed that British parents are often unlikely to protect their own skin when doing everyday activities outside, with 42% saying they protect their skin when doing DIY outside, 46% when watching sport outside, and only 18% of parents saying they protect their skin to go shopping.

In addition, 11% of British parents said that they didn’t use any sun protection when they were outside in spring and summer, unaware of just how dangerous the sun in the UK can be.

As parents aren’t protecting their own skin from strong sun, the new data also revealed that only 28% of parents strongly agree that they are setting a good example to their children about sun protection. With children often imitating their parents’ behaviour, Cancer Research UK and NIVEA SUN advise parents to protect their own skin in strong sun as well as their children’s.

In addition, the survey revealed that British parents are confused about sun safety with 10% of respondents either unsure or not even realising there was a particular time you should be more careful in the sun. 

In the UK, Cancer Research UK and NIVEA SUN recommend being particularly careful of the sun between 11am – 3pm following the advice in their easy-to-remember C.A.R.E acronym: cover up, aim for shade, rub on sunscreen and enjoy the sun safely.

Over half (51%) of parents are unsure (44%) or have never heard about (7%) the UV Index.  And even among the parents surveyed who knew about the UV Index, only 11% knew that 3 is the magic number that means sun protection might be needed. 

Cancer Research UK and NIVEA SUN advise that UV rays can travel through clouds so you can still get sunburnt when it’s overcast. And the great thing about the UV Index is it takes that into account and tells you how strong the sun is at ground level. When the UV Index is 3 or more, the sun is strong enough for some people to burn – and the higher the number the bigger the risk for everyone. You can check the UV index at to see how strong the sun’s rays are where you are.

When it comes to choosing sunscreen, only 22% of parents surveyed knew the difference between the SPF and the star rating with 31% getting them mixed up, a further 7% thinking they are the same thing and 39% not having heard of them or being unsure.  SPF or Sun Protection Factor number refers to the protection from UVB rays (those which cause sunburn and DNA damage) and the star rating indicates the level of protection against UVA rays (those which can cause premature skin ageing and DNA damage).

NIVEA SUN and Cancer Research UK recommend choosing a sunscreen with at least SPF15 and four or more stars. And to get the protection shown on the label, it’s important to put plenty on and reapply it regularly every two hours.

More positively, the new data showed that parents are protecting their children’s skin in the UK when they are enjoying outdoor activities, with 85% of respondents saying they protect their children’s skin when going to the beach, 78% when spending time in the garden and 76% when going for picnics.

Parents are most likely to put sunscreen on their children (78%) and put a hat on them (73%) but less likely to keep them in the shade (52%) or put long sleeved clothing on them (20%).  Only a small minority (4%) of parents admitted they don’t think about sun protection at all when their children are outside in spring and summer.

Sarah Williams, health information manager at Cancer Research UK said: “Although we all need some sun for healthy bones, it’s important not to overdo it and risk skin damage and sunburn.

It is good to see from this new data that parents are protecting their children’s skin this summer when the sun is strong.  With the school holidays starting, help your family get the most out of the warmer weather and enjoy these outdoor activities with friends and family by protecting their skin – and don’t let sunburn spoil things.

Whether you’re home or abroad, we, along with NIVEA SUN, would urge parents to ensure their children spend time in the shade, pop on a t-shirt and hat, and cover any exposed areas with sunscreen which is at least SPF 15 with four or more stars.”

The survey also revealed the challenges that parents have with keeping their children safe in the sun, with 29% of parents saying they would like tips on how best to apply sunscreen to their children, while 23% would like advice on how to keep a hat on their children, and 20% of parents would like to know how best to keep areas of their garden shaded.

With the school holidays starting, the survey found that parents are planning relatively simple outdoor activities with their children with 66% of parents planning on taking their kids to the beach, 65% taking them to the park and 57% taking them for picnics.

To address parents’ uncertainty around protecting their and their children’s skin in the sun, Cancer Research UK and NIVEA SUN encourage people to enjoy the sun safely and recommend taking the following steps, which fall within their easy to remember C.A.R.E acronym:

C – Cover up

Wear a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses

A – Aim for the shade

Between the hours of 11am – 3pm in the UK

R – Rub on sunscreen

Use plenty with at least SPF 15 and 4 star rating

E – Enjoy!

Have fun in the sun safely 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,110 GB parents of children aged 18 and under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th – 12th July 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted.

Cancer Research UK has delivered a sun safety campaign with NIVEA SUN since 2012. Together we’re encouraging families to protect themselves in the sun, whether at home or abroad. We balance messages around effective sunscreen use, with the importance of shade and clothing for sun protection.   We have created an acronym together, ‘C.A.R.E’., that gives easy to remember advice to stay safe in strong sun; Cover up, Aim for shade, Rub on sunscreen and Enjoy the sun safely.