/ Health, Travel & Leisure

The three key ways to avoid sunburn this summer

Sun cream on shoulder

Here’s hoping we get some good weather over the weekend. In this guest post, Sarah Williams, a health information manager at Cancer Research, looks at how to enjoy the sun safely.

Bin men may have been surprised by the number of half-used sunscreen bottles tumbling into their lorry this morning, after a Which? report found that two out of 13 sunscreens Which? 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 too, that while sunscreen can help, there are other (and better) ways to protect your skin from too much sun.

The best sun protection

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:

1) 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 such as sand and concrete reflect light upwards, and be aware of the shady area changing with the sun.

2) 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 over your cozzie, don’t forget your thighs and bottom – pop some shorts or leggings on too.

3) 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.

For more information and advice on enjoying the sun safely, visit Cancer Research UK.

Does the labelling on sunscreens make it clear what protection they offer? Do you apply it as often as is recommended?

wev says:
15 May 2015

Sarah, is it true that some ingredients in suncream like titanium dioxide cause cancer?

Titanium dioxide has been used in sunscreens for many years, but we still unsure about the risks. What we can be certain about is that there is a far greater danger of cancer from not using sunscreen. Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide are always white. Clear sunscreens are available, but we know less about their safety.

Titanium dioxide is an approved food colour (E171), as are aluminium, silver and gold. That concerns me far more than sunscreen.

Perhaps Sarah could comment on the safety or otherwise of titanium dioxide and other components of sunscreens.

Hi wavechange, I’ve had a chat with our experts about this – There’s been some investigation regarding whether titanium dioxide is a carcinogen but this related to it being inhaled, not it being used on skin.

The EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety has looked into the use of titanium dioxide in sunscreens and has concluded that it’s safe to use in cosmetics (with a maximum concentration of 25%).

Thanks Andrew.

Ron says:
17 May 2015

I was really shocked by these results. As someone who has suffered from skin cancer for over 15 years and had a lot of treatment for it I rely on the factor rating to be correct and only use factor 50. These result can mean me using a sun screen that could put my life at risk.

I see that one Boots product is a Best Buy and another a Don’t Buy.

How good is the quality control? Is there a chance that the good product will be poor and the poor one good when we buy it.

It is very common for well known brands of household goods to feature in both Best Buy and Don’t Buy lists, but a poor TV won’t affect your health. As Ron says, substandard sunscreen could put your life at risk.

I hope the companies are asked to recall products that fail to meet their claims. It would be a good way of making sure that they do better in future.

If we accept (which I do) that substandard suncreens could put our lives at risk, how do they make it to the shelves in the first place? How do we prevent them from making it to the shelves? Not everyone will take part in Which Convo and be informed this way, and not everyone will receive the message that some products have been recalled.

It’s great that Which? is informing us of this and other problems but little help if nothing happens other than informing the manufacturers that there is a problem. Either Which? needs to take further action or support members in taking legal action if they have bought substandard products.

In the meantime, the best we can do is to buy sunscreen with the highest rating available and remembering that sunscreens only reduce the risk of skin cancer, not eliminate it.

Seems to me this is yet another task that Trading Standards should do. So we need a campaign to get them both up-to-scratch and properly resourced with national co-ordination, don’t we?

This is not the first time that sunscreen branded Soltan and sold by Boots has been identified as a problem due to inadequate sun protection. Here is a link to a recall published in 2009: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/safety/rapex/alerts/main/index.cfm?event=main.notification&search_term=0936/09&exclude_search_term=0&search_year=2009

Having read the report on sunscreens in the June 2015 issue of the Which? magazine, I have learned that this is the second time that one of the Boots Soltan products examined has failed Which? tests for sun protection and that Boots has responded to say that it does match the claim. On that basis, I guess that nothing will be done by Boots.

Is Which? going to take any further action? I have provided details of a voluntary recall of a Boots Soltan sunscreen above.