Protecting your skin against sun damage is one of the easiest and most important ways to look after your health.

Many of us might think we’re pretty clued up on how to protect ourselves from the sun, but it’s surprising how much we might be missing out.

With that said, here are 11 tips to protect your skin from sun damage.

Why is it important to protect yourself from sun damage?

Why is it important to protect yourself from sun damage

Spending time outdoors in the sunshine is a great way to stay active, reduce stress, and get a healthy dose of vitamin D. But while there are many benefits of sunlight, it’s also important to protect your skin from sun damage.

Overexposure to the sun’s UV rays can lead to sunburn, heat stroke, premature ageing – as well as an increased risk of skin cancer.

In fact, research suggests that around 90% of skin ageing is caused by the sun. And, according to Cancer Research UK, up to 9 in 10 cases of melanoma skin cancer could be prevented if people enjoyed the sun safely.

11 tips to protect your skin from sun damage

11 tips to protect your skin from sun damage

1) Use an effective sunscreen

Regardless of your skin tone and whether or not you burn or tan easily, anyone who spends time outdoors should protect themselves from the sun by applying sunscreen. 

All sunscreens are labelled with a sun protection factor (SPF) number which rates how effective they are at blocking ultraviolet (UV) rays. The higher the number, the greater the protection.

It’s worth using a broad-spectrum sunscreen because these filter out both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation exposure. UVA rays are mostly responsible for premature ageing and skin cancer because they penetrate deep into the skin, while UVB rays affect the surface of the skin and cause sunburn.

A few other things to bear in mind when applying sunscreen for full protection include…

  • Apply your sunscreen a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes before heading outdoors to let the ingredients fully bind to the skin.
  • Cover all areas of your body that are exposed to the sun with sunscreen. This includes your ears, face, and the back of your hands. Lip sunscreens are also available to buy.
  • Remember that sunscreen wears off after around two hours so it’s important to reapply – especially after swimming, heavy sweating, and towelling off.
  • Always check the expiry date of your sunscreen. Sunscreen without an expiration date has a shelf life of no longer than three years. However, this will be shorter if the product has been exposed to high temperatures.
  • Some cosmetic products like BB creams, foundations, and concealers contain some of the chemicals used in sunscreens. However, unless they contain SPF 15 or above, experts recommend not using them by themselves.

Some sunscreens contain ingredients that can irritate the skin. If you have sensitive skin, it’s worth speaking with your doctor or a dermatologist for advice.

2) Apply sunscreen throughout the year, even if it’s cloudy or overcast

It’s easy to assume that you only need to apply sunscreen during the summer months or when the sun’s out. But the truth is that it’s important to protect your skin all year round – even when the sun might not be visible.

Research shows that as much as 80% of the sun’s UV rays are still present on cloudy days. As a result, experts recommend using at least SPF 15, no matter the weather.

3) Where possible, avoid exposure to the sun at peak times of the day

According to the NHS, the sun is strongest between 10am and 3pm – so where possible, it’s worth seeking shade or limiting exposure during these times.

At noon, the sun is also highest in the sky – and therefore at its strongest – because the rays have the shortest distance to travel to earth. So, another useful tip is to practise the shadow rule: if your shadow is shorter than you, this means the sun rays are at their strongest and you should consider finding shade.

You can also use the UV index to determine the strength of the sun. When the UV index is three or more, this means the sun is strong enough to cause damage.

Where possible, avoid exposure to the sun at peak times of the day

4) Take caution around sand, snow, and water

Research shows that sand, snow, and water reflect between 25% and 80% of the sun’s UV rays.

Therefore, when exposed to or nearby these surfaces it’s important to consider that some forms of protection – such as sun hats or umbrellas – won’t be able to protect you from any UV rays that are reflected from below.

If you’re heading to a ski resort or anywhere else at higher altitude, remember that UV ray intensity will also increase.

5) Increase your intake of foods high in lycopene

Diet plays a huge role in how we adapt to our environment. When it comes to sun damage, science suggests eating foods high in lycopene could offer some protection from the sun by neutralising the effects of UV light.

Lycopene is a pigment found in red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables – for example, watermelon, tomatoes, red oranges, pink guava, pink grapefruit, bell peppers, papaya, and carrots.

Small studies have suggested that lycopene can provide around 33% extra protection against sunburn.

Note: while eating these foods can help to boost protection, it’s still important to always wear sunscreen.

6) Pick your clothing and accessories wisely

What we wear plays a big role in how susceptible we are to sun damage. Generally speaking, dark, long, dry clothing offers the most protection, but this might not always be convenient.

Just like SPF rating for sunscreen, clothes are rated by ultraviolet protection factor (UBF). Fabrics rated below UBF 15 aren’t considered to be UV protective and will require additional protection like sunscreen to be worn alongside them. UBF ratings of 50 or above are considered to provide excellent protection because they allow less than 2% of UV transmission. For example, a typical cotton white t-shirt has an UBF rating lower than 15.

The Expert Advice website has more information on how to choose sun-protection (UPF) clothing. However, if your clothing doesn’t have a UBF label, the Skin Cancer Foundation has som useful advice on how to dress to protect yourself from the sun – including colour, fabric, fit, and coverage.

Accessorising with sun hats, sarongs, and beach cover ups is another useful way to offer yourself more protection.

Pick your clothing and accessories wisely

7) Limit the amount you spend in the sun

Limiting your time in the sun can help to protect your skin and prevent other heat and sun-related issues like heat rash and sun stroke.

The amount of time that it’s safe to be in direct sunlight will depend on a few factors including sun intensity, altitude, sunscreen SPF, and your skin type. This sunbathing calculator from Omni Calculator will help give you a rough idea of how long is safe to stay in the sun depending on these factors.

According to experts, some tell-tale signs of too much sun exposure include skin that easily bruises or tears, rashes, chapped lips, high body temperature, and brown spots.

8) Invest in sunglasses that offer proper protection

As well as our skin from the sun, we need to consider how our eyes are affected by the sun too. Too much sun exposure can cause symptoms like dry, runny eyes, and increase the risk of cataracts.

Luckily, sunglasses do a great job at killing two birds with one stone by protecting our eyes and the surrounding skin at the same time.

Experts recommend wearing sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Some prescription glasses and contacts also provide UVA and UVB protection, but it’s always worth speaking with an eye care professional first.

The bigger the lenses, the more protection provided, and wrap-around sunglasses can help to block UV rays filtering in through the sides. It’s also worth considering the condition of your sunglasses, as scratches and scrapes can decrease UV protection and interfere with lenses and frames.

Invest in sunglasses that offer proper protection

9) Eat for skin health

Eating a variety of nutrients – including protein, antioxidants, collagen, and antioxidants can boost skin health, help prevent damage, and contribute towards repair.

We’ll look at some of the most notable nutrients below…

  • Omega-3 fatty acids help to produce collagen, reduce inflammation, and promote skin health. Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon and tuna, nuts, and seeds.
  • Vitamin A is converted by the liver into retinol, which stimulates the production of new skin cells in the body. Good sources include organ meats, egg yolks, sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables like broccoli.
  • Vitamin C is used to create collagen in the body which provides a strong framework for tissue repair. It’s also involved in the formation of lipids that help to reconstruct the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) when damaged. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruit like oranges and lemons, pepper, broccoli, strawberries, and kale.
  • Vitamin E helps to rapidly expel free radicals from the body and strengthen the skin barrier function. Good sources include almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and red bell peppers.

10) Protect yourself from the sun each time you go outside or are exposed

Sunburn can happen when we least expect it and even when we’re not outside for long periods of time, it’s still important to be aware of the sun’s UV rays and make sure you protect yourself.

Activities such as dog walking or going to and from your car may not seem as obvious as a day trip to the beach, but according to research, these can add up over time. For example, the Skin Cancer Foundation says that incidental sun exposure accumulated over the course of a lifetime is linked with an increased risk of skin cancer.

This study also found that people with more skin damage to one side of their face spent a significant part of their job driving. In fact, it even found that American drivers have more skin cancers on the left side of their face.

11) Pay attention to any medication you take that can increase sensitivity to the sun

Some medications can make us more prone to sun damage, either by causing photosensitivity, or a chemically-induced change in the skin that makes skin more sensitive to sunlight.

Medications that do this include acne treatments, antibiotics, and antidepressants. If you’re currently taking any medication, most will have labels outlining any increased sensitivity. However, if you’re unsure or would like further information and advice, it’s always worth speaking to your doctor.

Final thoughts…

Protecting ourselves from the sun’s UV rays is important for a number of reasons – most notably lowering our risk of developing forms of skin cancer and conditions like cataracts.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to stay safe, while enjoying the sunlight.

For more healthy information, head over to the general health section of our website where you’ll find everything from diet and nutrition guides to tips on boosting your longevity.