Sun safety Q&A

It's important to protect your and your children's skin in the sun to avoid sunburn and heat exhaustion.

What sun protection factor (SPF) should I use?

Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. The higher the SPF, the better. Go for broad-spectrum sunscreens, which protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays. Make sure the product is not past its expiry date. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years.

What is broad spectrum and the star-rating?

Broad-spectrum products provide protection against the sun’s UVB and UVA rays. The sun protection factor, or SPF, is a measurement of the amount of UVB protection. The higher the number, the greater the protection. In the UK, UVA protection is measured with a star rating. Sunscreens has from 0 to 5 stars. The higher the number of stars, the greater the protection.

How long can I stay in the sun?

Don’t spend any longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen. Sunscreen should not be used as an excuse to stay out in the sun. Instead, it offers protection when exposure is unavoidable. The summer sun is most damaging to your skin in the middle of the day. Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, under umbrellas, trees, canopies or indoors.

Should I reapply sunscreen if I swim?

Water washes off sunscreen and the cooling effect of the water can make you think you're not getting burned. Water also reflects UV rays, increasing your exposure. Even "waterproof" sunscreens should be reapplied after going in the water.

What should I do if I get sunburn?

Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, will ease the pain by helping to reduce inflammation caused by sunburn. Sponge sore skin with cool water, then apply soothing after sun or calamine lotion. If you feel unwell or the skin swells badly or blisters, seek medical help. Stay out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.

Are children more at risk of sunburn?

Young skin is delicate and very easily damaged by the sun. Use at least a factor 15 sunscreen and choose a broad-spectrum brand that has a four- or five-star rating. Apply it to areas not protected by clothing, such as the face, ears, feet and backs of hands. Choose sunscreens that are formulated for children and babies' skin, as these are less likely to irritate their skin.

My child has eczema. What sunscreen should I use?

Some sunscreens may aggravate eczema. Check the label for any ingredients that you know your child is allergic to. Test any new sunscreen on a small area before applying it to the whole body. Put on your child’s emollient and steroids first then put the sun protection cream on 30 minutes later. Remember to put more sun protection cream on regularly throughout the day and especially after swimming.

What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body cannot lose heat fast enough. If it's not treated quickly, it can lead to heat stroke, which is a much more dangerous condition. Signs of heat exhaustion include faintness, dizziness, palpitations, nausea, headaches, low blood pressure, tiredness, confusion, loss of appetite and hallucinations.

What should I do if someone has signs of heat exhaustion?

Get them to rest in a cool place, ideally a room with air conditioning. Give them plenty of water. Avoid alcohol or caffeine as this can increase levels of dehydration. Cool their skin with cold water. Use a shower or cold bath to cool them down or, if this is not possible, wet flannels and face cloths in water and apply to their skin. Loosen any unnecessary clothing and make sure that the person gets plenty of ventilation. Monitor their condition closely.

Should I cover up my mole when I’m in the sun?

If you have lots of moles or freckles, you're more likely to develop skin cancer, so you need to take extra care. Avoid getting caught out by sunburn. Use shade, clothing and sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to protect yourself. Keep an eye out for changes to your skin and report these to your doctor without delay. Skin cancer is much easier to treat if it is found early. Use the mole self-assessment tool to see whether you could have a cancerous mole.

Page last reviewed: 26/05/2014

Next review due: 26/05/2016

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Media last reviewed: 13/06/2014

Next review due: 13/06/2016