Seven sun facts

Lots of us love lounging around in the sun. But too much sun can give you wrinkles, sunburn, and put you at risk of skin cancer.

Make sure you know the signs and symptoms of skin cancer

Dr Julie Sharp of Cancer Research UK answers seven important questions about the effect of sun on your skin and the importance of sunscreen.

1. How long can sunburn last?
Days. You can get sunburnt in just 10 minutes, even in the UK. If you overdo it at a festival or on holiday, skin can be red, painful and peeling for a week or more.

Sunburn also damages your skin for life and doubles your risk of skin cancer.

2. What suncream should I use?
Use factor 15 plus with UVA and UVB protection, and apply regularly (every two to three hours). Use more after swimming. The paler your skin is, the more care you need to take. If you're blonde, a redhead, have fair skin or lots of moles or freckles, you have a higher risk of skin cancer and need to take extra care.

3. I'm black. Is sun exposure still dangerous?
Yes. Black skin can burn too – it just takes more heat to do it. Although very dark black skin has a natural SPF, we still advise using an SPF of 15. Although skin cancer is less common in black people, it tends to be more aggressive. Take particular care of the soles of your feet and palms of your hands, as they're more prone to skin cancer. 

4. Sun makes me feel good. What's so bad about it anyway?
Right now the worst thing about it might seem like sunburn and strap marks, but give it a few years and you could have wrinkles, moles, freckles, brown patches and, sometimes, skin cancer. Every year, more than 2,000 people die from malignant melanoma, and more than two people aged 15 to 34 are diagnosed with malignant melanoma every day in the UK.

5. Is sunbathing really worse when you're a teenager?
Yes, younger skin is more easily damaged than older skin. And you can't undo the damage. Once you've been sunburnt your skin will age prematurely.

6. I'm still not persuaded. Anything else to put me off?
The most common kind of skin cancer is rarely fatal. But it can be seriously disfiguring. If skin cancer is found on the face, it has to be cut out and may even need plastic surgery. There is a risk of permanent scarring, or part of your nose may have to be cut away.

7. Are sunbeds safer?
No. Getting a tan on a sunbed will increase your risk of getting skin cancer and make you look old.

It's illegal for under-18s to use sunbeds. Find more information on the Cancer Research UK website.

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Page last reviewed: 19/02/2015

Next review due: 19/02/2017


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'Sunbathing gave me skin cancer'

Rachel loved sunbathing as a teenager, but developed skin cancer at the age of 26