Tommy Lloyd
Author: Tommy Lloyd, Managing Director

Tommy has over 15 years experience within the insurance industry, and his primary focus is helping travellers find the right cover for their medical conditions.

10 min read

Sun Awareness Week kicks off on the first Monday of May and wraps up the following Sunday. It's a major part of the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) 'Sun Awareness' campaign, aimed at boosting knowledge about skin cancer and promoting safe sun enjoyment.

Travellers often look forward to soaking up the sun in the warmer climates of their holiday destinations. Not only does sunshine improve our mood, but it also provides several health benefits.

Practising sun safety is key to avoiding overexposure, which can result in painful sunburn and potentially serious complications. Sun exposure impacts us all—indeed, in 2022, a staggering 40% of Brits were sunburnt at least once during the heatwave, with this figure jumping to 56% among the 18 - 34 age group.

Just in time for Sun Awareness Week, we've put together our top tips to keep you safe in the sun, whether you're enjoying the warmth in your garden or while away on holiday.

Beach Mauritius

What is the Sun Awareness Campaign?

Launched by the British Association of Dermatologists' Skin Cancer Prevention Committee, this initiative is led by medical experts dedicated to making a difference. They bring their extensive knowledge in skin cancer research, the significance of Vitamin D, and crafting powerful public health messages to the table. Designed with care, the campaign takes a comprehensive approach, focusing on both educating about skin cancer prevention and improving early detection. With friendly advice and approachable guidance, it aims to empower individuals with the knowledge they need to protect themselves effectively against skin cancer.

The primary goal is to encourage everyone to play an active role in their health by regularly checking themselves for signs of skin cancer. It's a key move for catching it early, which can majorly boost the chances of successful treatment.

The second goal is to boost awareness about the risks of sunburn and over-tanning. They want to highlight the dangers of UV radiation and encourage a shift in how people view tanned skin, moving away from seeing it as desirable due to its potential for leading to risky tanning habits. 

Moreover, the campaign strongly advises against sunbeds, presenting compelling evidence to illustrate the direct link between sunbed usage and an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

Sunscreen and Hat

What Damage can the Sun Cause?

Sunburn is essentially your skin's reaction to excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure, resulting in red, painful, and sometimes swollen skin that feels hot to the touch. While mild burns might seem like a temporary inconvenience, they can have long-term harmful effects.

Repeated sunburns, particularly in childhood and adolescence, markedly elevate the risk of skin cancer in later life, including melanoma, the most lethal type of skin cancer. Sunburn not only increases the risk of cancer but also accelerates skin ageing, leading to early wrinkles, a leathery texture, and dark spots, indicating significant damage to skin cells.

The immediate pain of sunburn is just one concern; long-term and excessive exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can lead to serious harm, including both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers. While non-melanoma cancers are less severe, they still pose a health threat and require attention. Melanoma, on the other hand, can be fatal without early detection, underscoring the importance of safeguarding you and your family against sun exposure.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE

Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

We’ve had some extraordinary weather in the UK in recent years, regularly approaching or beating the record for the hottest day ever. But there are both short-term and long-term risks associated with too much sun.

Find out more about heatstroke and heat exhaustion in my guide.

Read More

Top Five Tips to Stay Sun-Safe

Embracing sun safety is more than just dodging sunburn; it's a critical step in warding off serious health concerns in the future. Here are our top expert recommendations to keep you safe while you enjoy the sunshine.

Sun Hat

1. Pick the Right Clothes

Choosing the right clothing is crucial for staying cool while also protecting yourself against harmful UV rays. Try to go for loose-fitting garments made from tightly woven fabrics; these allow your skin to breathe and minimise heat retention while blocking out the sun.

Light colours are preferable as they reflect the sun's rays rather than absorbing them, which helps keep your body temperature down. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants offer the most protection. While it may seem counterintuitive to cover up in warm weather, these items can prevent sunburn and heat-related discomfort.

Look for clothes with a UV protection factor (UPF) label - garments rated UPF 50 offer the highest level of sun protection, blocking out 98% of UV radiation. Fabrics such as cotton, linen, and hemp are excellent choices for their lightweight and breathable properties, making them ideal for sun-safe apparel.


2. Accessories

Equally important in the sun protection arsenal are accessories like sunglasses and hats. Sunglasses play a critical role in safeguarding your eyes from harmful UV rays, which can lead to cataracts, eye sunburn, and other eye health issues. Select sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection or UV400 on the label, ensuring they block both UVA and UVB rays. Furthermore, consider wraparound styles or glasses with large frames for more comprehensive coverage around the eye area.

Hats add a layer of protection, particularly baseball caps or those with wide brims that shield the face, neck, and ears—areas of the body highly susceptible to sun damage. Materials like canvas are preferable for sun hats, as they are better at blocking UV rays compared to loosely woven straw hats.

Incorporating these accessories into your sun protection strategy not only boosts your defence against the sun's damaging rays but also infuses an element of style into your summer wardrobe. Keep in mind, that sunscreen is essential, but for optimal protection under the sun, it's best to combine it with physical barriers like protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses.

Applying Sun Cream

3. SPF 30+ Sunscreen

No sunscreen offers complete protection; it should be complemented with additional protective measures, not used in isolation. Liberally apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all sun-exposed skin areas. Opting for waterproof sunscreen is advisable, even if swimming isn't on the agenda, as it provides better protection against sweat.

Apply your sunscreen 20-30 minutes before stepping outdoors and reapply at least every two hours. Increase the frequency if you're swimming or sweating profusely. Be mindful that activities like towel drying or resting on a fabric sunbed can remove the sunscreen.

SPF, or 'Sun Protection Factor,' measures protection against UVB radiation, which is linked to skin cancer. Additionally, look for a sunscreen with a 4-star or, ideally, a 5-star UVA rating to safeguard against UVA radiation, known for causing skin ageing.

Always check your sunscreen's expiry date; expired products lose effectiveness, increasing the risk of sunburn. And remember, your lips need protection too—use a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher.


4. Shade

Staying cool in the shade is not only a pleasant way to beat the heat, but it's also a crucial strategy for protecting yourself from the sun's harmful rays, especially for those with very fair skin. Just a brief exposure of 10 minutes to intense sunshine can lead to sunburn on certain skin types. It's essential to seek out shade whenever possible to shield your skin. This is particularly important during the peak sun intensity hours, between 11am and 3pm, when the sun's rays are at their most powerful and can do the most damage.

In addition to finding natural shade, consider creating your own with umbrellas or canopies. Always remember to keep babies and toddlers completely shielded from direct sunlight. Their delicate skin is far more susceptible to sun damage, and it's vital to keep them in the shade as much as possible and ensure they stay hydrated with plenty of fluids during hot weather.

Doctor - Check-up

5. If in Doubt, get it Checked Out!

Most skin cancer types are highly treatable, often curable if identified early. It's recommended that individuals perform self-examinations of their skin about once a month. In these examinations, pay close attention to moles, blemishes, or marks that are noticeably changing, have recently appeared, or appear unusual in any manner.

Adopting a vigilant approach towards skin health monitoring is crucial, especially for individuals at an elevated risk of skin cancer due to factors like prolonged sun exposure, a history of sunburns, or familial skin cancer history. If you notice any alterations in an existing mole, or if a new mole or mark appears on your skin that wasn't previously there, seeking immediate medical advice is essential. Prompt detection and discussing any skin modifications with your GP can enhance the likelihood of effective treatment and recovery.

READ MORE: Travel Insurance for Skin Cancer

In wrapping up, it's clear that the sun adds a wonderful touch to our outdoor adventures, but it's super important to play it smart when it comes to sun exposure. Making sure you've got the right gear on, slathering on sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and finding a nice spot in the shade when the sun's at its strongest are key steps for keeping yourself sun-safe.

Adopting sun protection measures in our daily lives does more than just prevent sunburn; it's a crucial step towards long-term health, safeguarding us against serious conditions like skin cancer. Remember, sun safety is more than a health precaution—it's a lifestyle choice that enables us to enjoy the sunshine responsibly and sustainably. By adopting a sun-smart lifestyle, we step outside with confidence and awareness, fully prepared to enjoy the sun's warmth without harm. Let’s embrace these practices and venture outdoors, knowing we’re protected and making informed choices for our well-being.

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