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UV exposure and how to protect yourself

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can have both short-term and long-term effects on your skin and overall health. Understanding the risks of UV exposure and how to protect yourself is essential for defending against sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.

The effects of UV radiation on the skin

UV radiation is made up of UVA and UVB rays, both of which can harm your skin. UVA rays contribute to skin aging, while UVB rays are primarily responsible for sunburns. However, both types of rays can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to mutations and an increased risk of skin cancer. UV rays can also cause eye damage, such as cataracts and eyelid cancers.

How to protect yourself from the sun and UV exposure

To minimise your risk of sunburn, premature aging, skin cancer, and eye problems, it’s important to reduce your exposure to UV radiation. Here are some key strategies for protecting yourself from UV exposure:


Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. This shields the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Remember to generously apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of the skin, including the face, neck, arms, and legs. Reapply every two hours or more frequently if you are sweating or swimming.

Seek shade

Limit your sun exposure during peak hours when UV radiation is strongest, typically between 11am and 3pm in the UK. Whenever possible, seek shade under trees, umbrellas, or canopies. Even on cloudy days, UV rays can penetrate through clouds, so staying in the shade is essential for protection.

Protective clothing and accessories

Wearing appropriate clothing and accessories can provide an additional layer of defence against UV radiation. Choose lightweight, loose-fitting garments that cover your arms and legs. Opt for wide-brimmed hats that shade your face, neck, and ears. Don't forget to wear sunglasses with UV protection to shield your eyes.

An image of the sun In the top right hand corner with  a blue sky in the background and 2 clouds in the foreground.
Understanding the risks of UV exposure and how to protect yourself is essential for defending against sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.

Sun safety habits for outdoor workers

If you work outdoors, taking extra precautions is necessary due to prolonged sun exposure. Here are some specific sun safety habits for those who work outdoors:

Check the UV forecast

The UV index lets you know how strong UV levels are and most weather forecasts include this rating along with the weather. Just because it’s not sunny doesn't mean that UV levels will be low – even on cloudy or cold days, UV levels can be high enough to cause damage. When working outdoors it’s a good idea to check the UV index each day so you can be prepared.

Clothing and equipment

Wear protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Lightweight, breathable, long-sleeved shirts and trousers, along with wide-brimmed hats, are ideal. Additionally, consider using tools or equipment that provide shade or reduce direct sunlight exposure such as a canopy or sunshade. UV rays can reflect off surfaces such as metal, glass, sand, and water, so you could still be at risk even when you think you’re in the shade.

Hydration and breaks

Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don't feel thirsty. Take regular breaks in shaded or covered areas to give the body time to cool down and reduce overall sun exposure. Be aware of the signs of heat-related illnesses and take appropriate action if needed.

Eye and lip protection

Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays. Look for sunglasses labelled with UV protection. Additionally, use lip balm with SPF to safeguard your lips from sunburn and potential skin damage.

By practicing sun safety habits, such as applying sunscreen, seeking shade, and wearing protective clothing, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with UV radiation. Whether for work or leisure, prioritising sun protection is essential for promoting overall well-being and long-term skin health.

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Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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