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8 easy ways to protect yourself against sun ageing

Brace yourselves, heatwave incoming! (yes, again). Here's the lowdown on everything you need to know about staying safe in the sun, with a little help from the experts at Healthily.

Whether you’re staycaying in the UK, or heading overseas for sea and surf, there’s no denying that this summer is HOT. Those of us who were teens in the Eighties and Nineties will remember holidays to Europe slathered in Body Shop Coconut Oil (guilty as charged), gritting our teeth through the midday sun for the kind of deep tan that the word ‘leather’ was invented for.

Now we have more respect for the dangers of that yellow orb – but still perhaps not as much as we should. With You Gov research from last summer showing nearly 30% of British men and women admitting getting sunburnt in the UK in 2021, and with another heatwave likely to hit our shores this coming month, we’ve asked Healthily – the medically reviewed website, award-winning Smart Symptom Checker and app – about the best ways to stay safe in the sun this summer.

Always choose a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen

What this means is that you are protecting yourself against both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are responsible for most types of sunburn and are thought to cause most skin cancers. While  UVA rays are longer and reach deeper into your skin, causing ageing. So, you know, neither are much fun for your skin. Wear a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 (which protects against 97% UVB) and make sure it offers a minimum of 4-star UVA protection to help keep skin healthy, and prevent skin cancer and premature ageing. Check how often you should apply sunscreen.

Don’t wait until you get in the sun to apply sunscreen

By the time you’ve put down your towel, had a quick dip in the pool, got settled with your magazine and checked your IG feed, you’ll have been without sunscreen for 15 minutes and the UV waves have had an illegal rave on your skin. It’s an easy fix so just make sure you apply it about 30 minutes before you head out into the sun so your skin has time to absorb it and it can offer the best protection. And, importantly, don’t skimp – an average adult needs to apply about 6-8 teaspoons (35ml) of sunscreen to get the protection level promised on the label.

Do a shadow test

Ideally, we should all avoid the heat between 11am-3pm, but if you’re not sure of the time, go old school and use your body like a sundial. If your shadow is shorter than you, it means UV rays are strong and you should be doubly careful.

Don’t just use SPF in summer – even in the UK

Britain’s climate is becoming increasingly continental but even when we’re looking at more regular, cloudy day even in mid-October, UV rays can penetrate through the clouds. It’s an easy fix – just check your daily ‘UV index’ easily on most national weather forecasts (just scroll down your BBC weather app locations and you’ll see it clearly).   1-2 is low; 3-5 is medium; 6-7 is high; 8-10 is very high; and 11+ is extremely high! Anything above 3 and you need to reach for the SPF, particularly if you have pale skin or burn easily. Find out more about the UV and how much sunscreen you need here.

Don’t assume you’re safe in the shade

Portrait of a young woman relaxing on the beach, reading a book

15% of UV rays reflect off sand, so even if you’re on the beach in the shade, it’s highly likely your skin is absorbing some of the UV. You’re not safe in the sea either – 25% of UV rays are reflected off sea foam. UVA light can also penetrate glass, so if you’re driving for long periods or working near a window, you should wear sunscreen. Finally, don’t even get us started on snow – 80% of rays will penetrate your skin on the slopes, so bear that in mind when you’re booking the Alps this winter.

Avoid sunburn at all costs

While we can’t turn back time, it’s worth knowing going forward that one sunburn that’s serious enough to blister doubles your risk of getting skin cancer. Even a less extreme version of getting sunburned once every two years triples your chances of getting melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer). People who get sunburned a lot can also be at higher risk of getting cataracts. Check out how to avoid sunburn plus what really works to ease it if you do get caught out.

Go high on the SPF

Make wearing sunscreen part of your routine. If your skincare products or makeup have SPF that’s great, but you’d need to put on a lot to give you enough coverage. Don’t rely on them alone – apply your sunscreen first. The higher the SPF number, the better you can expect to be protected. Remember a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 gives you about 94% protection against UVB. That goes up to 97% with SPF 30 and 98% with SPF 50+. As a general rule, experts now recommend that we all use at least SPF 30. Coconut oil body-basting? Never, ever again.

Check out all the latest tips from Healthily on suncare, from sunburn relief to prickly heat, spotting cancers to treating photosensitivity, all medically checked and verified. PLUS head to Reader Treats to win a swanky new Apple Watch Series 7, compatible with the Healthily app.

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