Taking care of your skin in the sun? Dr Karen Gibbon Consultant Dermatologist answers the top FAQs

Dr Karen Gibbon, Consultant Dermatologist

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. According to the British Association of Dermatologists over 250,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year in addition to more than 13,000 new cases of melanoma, resulting in around 2,148 deaths annually. As the temperature hots up we wondered how best to stay safe in the sun.

In this special interview, Dr Karen Gibbon, Consultant Dermatologist gives us her tips for sun safety.

Do I really need to wear sun protection? 
“Yes! Using sunscreens regularly and effectively can reduce the risk of a person developing any type of skin cancer. However according to a survey carried out by the British Association of Dermatologists, eight out of ten people are still failing to adequately apply sunscreen before going out in the sun.”

What’s the right way to apply sunscreen?

  • Apply sunscreen liberally half an hour before going into the sun.
  • Apply more again shortly after going outside to ensure you’re fully covered and the sunscreen has absorbed into your skin.
  • Reapply at least every two hours, as the protective filters can break down over time.
  • Reapply after any activity where it might be accidentally removed, such as swimming.
  • Remember – water-resistant sunscreens are not friction-resistant, and can be accidentally removed if you towel dry after swimming or sweating.

What sun protection factor should I use? 
“Always aim for a high protection sunscreen which protects against UVA and UVB rays e.g. factor 30 or factor 50. If you’re going to a very hot sunny country, use the highest factor available, particularly when you first arrive there when your skin is at its most sensitive.”

What are the SPF and star ratings?
“Sunscreens in the UK are labelled with an SPF. This stands for ‘sun protection factor’ and shows the level of protection against UVB, but not protection against UVA. SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 – 50+ based on the level of protection they offer.

When you currently buy sunscreen containing UVA protection in the UK you’ll also see a UVA star rating on the packaging. The stars range from 0 to 5 and indicate the percentage of UVA radiation absorbed by the sunscreen in comparison to UVB. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and a UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars is generally considered as a good standard of sun protection, in addition to seeking shade and clothing.”

New EU recommendations mean that some manufacturers’ are making the labels easier to understand by categorising them as low to very high protection:

 New Label   SPF
 Low protection  6  to 14 (i.e. SPF 6 and 10)
 Medium protection  15 to 29 (i.e. SPF 15, 20 and 25)
 High protection  30 to 50 (i.e. SPF 30 and 50)
 Very high protection   50 + (i.e. SPF 50+)


I love having a tan. Is there a safe way to sunbathe or tan? 
“The short answer to this is sadly ‘no’. All forms of sun burning and tanning occur in response to too much sunshine. Younger people who use sunbeams regularly can double their risk of developing malignant melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer. Fake tan creams and moisturisers containing SPF are so good nowadays that you don’t need to expose yourself to too much sunshine increasing the risk of burning.”

How long can I stay in the sun? 
These simple tips below will help you stay safe in the sun.

Sun protection tips:
1. Spend time in the shade during the sunniest part of the day when the sun is at its strongest, which is usually between 11am and 3pm in the summer months.
2. Avoid direct sun exposure for babies and very young children.
3. When it’s not possible to stay out of the sun, keeping yourself well covered, with a hat, T-shirt, and sunglasses can give you additional protection.
4. Apply sunscreen liberally to exposed areas of skin. Re-apply every two hours and straight after swimming or towelling in order to maintain protection.

What should I do if I get sunburn?
“Seek shade and cover up fully against any further sunshine. Drink lots of cold water and take simple pain relieving agents such as paracetamol. Regularly apply soothing moisturisers that suit your skin type and avoid the sun for the next few days until your skin recovers. Seek medical advice if you feel unwell or have blisters on your skin.”

How can I protect my children from sunburn? 
“Be even more careful with children in the sunshine. Use a high factor broad spectrum preparation – there are many now marketed just for children. The formulations vary hugely but if you follow my How to apply sunscreen tips, combined with sensible sun avoidance behaviour then your child will be safe. SPF containing moisturisers aren’t suitable for children as they don’t contain any UVA protection.”

My child has eczema. What sunscreen can I use? 
“Many of the newer sunscreen formulations are designed to be less irritating. You should still apply your child’s moisturisers and save any steroid cream treatments for the evening. You can then bathe your child, remove the sunscreen, reapply moisturisers and then apply the active steroid treatments to the affected areas of skin. Remember that SPF containing moisturisers don’t contain any protection against UVA so stick to your regular moisturisers instead and apply a high factor broad spectrum sunscreen to your child’s skin.”

Dr Karen Gibbon, Consultant Dermatologist holds clinics on Tuesday mornings.

An appointment with a consultant dermatologist at The Holly Private Hospital costs £150 – 250 if you don’t have health insurance. 

Call our friendly appointments team on 020 8936 1201 to book your appointment or email 

You can read more about Dermatology services at the hospital here


Date: 29/06/2016