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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

Comments

Joanne Thurstan July 27, 2015

I thought the text was hugely informative, giving out specific advice as to which sunscreens we should buy and what to look for in the bottle to ensure that happened. The whole text was well laid out and easy to understand giving clear instructions on how to protect ourselves. The information was also interestingly written out, didn’t waffle made it’s point.

Paul. July 24, 2015

Very informative (and surprising).

Lesley Parsons July 24, 2015

A very good article. Would be worth adding information for the group of people like myself that have undergone chemo and radiotherapy. I have noticed my skin is very fragile now and I can not be in the sun 5 minutes without my skin tingling, I now keep covered up and stay in the shade. If I want a tan it comes out of a bottle !

Jennifer Miln July 23, 2015

An excellent article, thank you

Jo July 23, 2015

Thanks, it has always been a subject close to my heart, I had a malignant melanoma when I was 18…Dr was slow to believe me after 10 visits they finally referred me, had operation and since then try to tell as many people as poss, about risks of the sun. Most people are better now for taking g your advise but so many believe that sun isn’t strong enough in UK. so thanks for this article, let’s all spread the word :)
especially about the sun cream .

Abigail July 23, 2015

I think Cancer Research should be promoting the use of safe sunscreens. So many sunscreens contain ingredients that actually increase your chance of skin cancer. Cancer Research would do well to educate the public on the use of zinc and titanium sunscreens without all the nasty chemicals in normal sunscreens. Take a look at the Environmental Working Groups sunscreen guide! http://www.ewg.org/2015sunscreen/report/executive-summary/

Phil Pryke July 23, 2015

I agree, many sunscreens are greasy, but perhaps that is a good thing? We did however recently buy some Eucerin factor 50 and 30 from Boots, its expensive, but transparent, non greasy spray. We bought this because my eldest child refuses to wear it because its sticky, every summer we have major tantrums; my eldest will wear Eucerin with much less protest. I spent 5 hours on a sunny beach on Saturday with factor 30 on, I’m fair and didn’t get burnt at all, so, for me, this is probably the best sunscreen I’ve ever used, I’d say the factor 30 offers very high level of protection (btw I have no connections with Boots or Eucerin)

Rowena Hughes July 23, 2015

Excellent Good to reinforce the importance of protecting yourself from sun and subsequently sun burn

Jamie July 23, 2015

I find the worst thing is that there seems to be no sunscreen that is unobtrusive. I have tried so many different types and most of them leave you feeling greasy and horrible. I find as the day goes on that it has started to run into my eyes and after adding several layers it just feels awful which leads me to put off applying it for as long as possible. The first company to solve these issues is going to make millions in my opinion.

Net July 23, 2015

Good advice. Also remember the sun ages your skin, so if you want less wrinkles shade is good. I am 52 and have looked after my skin as per these guidelines and everyone I meet thinks I am 10 years younger. Good advice.

Lynne July 23, 2015

Really interesting and a good reminder to cover up AND use sun screen!