Why you should wear sun screen every day

The effect of the Sun’s rays is something that people in the UK are underestimating, at their peril!

Because the bad effects take a long time to materialise it is hard to see a direct relationship between sun exposure and bad skin. Much like seeing the link between smoking or drinking too much and chronic disease.

Most of the damage caused by UV exposure happens before we are 20 and the full extent of the damage can take up to 30 years to become evident. This is why it is vitally important to protect your children’s skin from the sun, and your own.

Why is sun exposure harmful to the skin?

If you’re outside during the day you will be getting exposed to the Sun and UV radiation.
UV radiation from the sun can cause damage to your skin all year round, at any temperature. This UV exposure can lead to photo-ageing, wrinkles, sun spots and skin cancer (melanoma). Sunburn and sun tan are both indicators of skin damage that has already happened.[1.]

The two types of UV radiation that we are exposed to are UVA and UVB.

UVA is deeply penetrating, causing damage to collagen fibres in the dermis. This causes skin to lose its elasticity.
UVB affects the skin’s surface, dehydrating it and causing surface damage to skin cells, this is what gives you sunburn and a sun tan.

Both types of UV radiation lead to an increased risk of developing skin cancer. In fact getting sunburn just once in two years is enough to increase your skin cancer (melanoma) risk by a factor of three![2.]

Dermatologists, skin specialists and the NHS recommend that you use sun screen every day whatever the weather and reapply regularly, every 2 to 3 hours.

How will sun exposure affect me?

This will largely depend on where you sit on the Fitzpatrick scale of skin types. Those with paler skin, blue eyes, freckles and red hair (Fitzpatrick I) are most at risk of sunburn. However, anyone can get sunburn, even those with dark skin and eyes (Fitzpatrick V and VI).

Sun exposure will affect the skin types differently. Pale skin is more likely to get burned, suffer sun spots and get lines and wrinkles. Darker skin commonly becomes hyper-pigmented, this often occurs on the cheeks. Un-even skin tone is one of the biggest factors in appearing older than you really are.

How bad is sun exposure in the UK really?

Even on a cloudy day you’re being exposed to UV radiation. There is also a risk of sunburn during snowy seasons as the UV rays are reflected off snow and ice.

The amount of UV radiation reaching the earth’s surface is measured via the UVI (Ultra Violet Index) a scale devised by the WHO (World Health Organisation).


Exposure Level


0 1 2


Safe to be outside

3 4 5


Seek the shade at midday cover up and wear sun screen

6 7


Seek the shade between 11am and 2pm cover up and wear sun screen

8 9 10

Very High

Avoid being outside during midday hours. Shirt, sunscreen and hat essential.



Avoid being outside during midday hours. Shirt, sunscreen and hat essential.


The UV radiation in the UK for the year (2011)[4.]

So you can see that sun screen becomes very necessary between the months of March and November.
Even though the UVI is low during the winter months our dermatologists still recommend the use of sun screen to protect your skin from photo-ageing.

The UK experiences the highest levels of UV radiation during the summer solstice [3.] during which time the WHO (World Health Organisation) recommend that you “Seek shade during midday hours, cover up and wear sunscreen.”

Check today's UV Index

What sun screen should I use?

The minimum protection factor we recommend is SPF 30. If you do use a lower SPF sun screen then you will have to reapply regularly throughout the day, every 2 to 3 hours.

When purchasing a sun screen make sure that it contains one of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (which scatter and reflect UV) and an organic compound such as octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) or oxybenzone (which absorb UV radiation).[5.]

We recommend Heliocare SPF 50 or SPF 90 as this provides the best, lasting protection.

If you’re concerned about existing sun damage you can see one of our dermatologists for a consultation or if you have signs of photo-ageing you can book a free anti-ageing consultation with one of our nurses.

[1.] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sunexposure.html
[2.] http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/InitialAssessmentSelfCare/Sunburn
[3.] http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/uk/guide/key.html#uv
[4.] http://ozone-uv.defra.gov.uk/uv/data_search.php/?action=plot_year&;site_id=353&plotdate=2011-01-01
[5.] http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/sunscreen.html

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