Sun safety during the heatwave

This article was written by one of The Food Medic team; GP – Dr Nirja Joshi

Temperatures are hotter than ever this week in London – which many of us welcome – but the heat can be harmful to health. This article will share some practical tips on how to stay safe in the heat at home or on holiday.


Sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer. It is important to remember that you can burn whilst in the UK even on a cloudy day – sunburn does not just happen whilst you are abroad and on holiday. Ideally, aim to wear sunscreen on a daily basis and particularly when you are expecting to be outdoors for a prolonged period of time (1). 

Some people believe that it is important to have a tan to look “healthy”, however, there is no such thing as a “healthy tan” and it is important to strike a balance between the amount of sun exposure that you get per day to get your daily dose of vitamin D vs tanning or burning (1). 

Is important to try and stay out of the sun between March and October between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. whilst in the UK as this is when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. Is important to try your best to wear protective clothing to cover your skin to help prevent burning. It’s important to try and wear factor 30 SPF for above and and try to avoid burning your skin (1). 

How can the sun affect the skin? (2)

UV light is invisible to humans, and there are two main types which damage the skin:

  • UVA can cause damage to the skin such as ageing and wrinkles and contribute to sunburn
  • UVB causes sunburn and increases the risk of skin cancer

Sunscreen guide (1, 2)

It is important to make sure that you are wearing enough sunscreen to be able to get the right amount of coverage and protection that you need from the sun. There are two different types of protection available: protection from UVA and protection from UVB. There are two different indicators on a bottle of sunscreen to let you know how effective the sun cream will be against UVA and UVB. The SPF tells you about the protection against UVB. This can range from 2 to 50+. The higher the number the increased level of protection that you will get from that sunscreen. In addition there is a star rating which tells you about the level of protection from UVA. You can experience damage from UVB rays even whilst you are indoors. A broad spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB radiation and have become standard in recent years.

Tips for sunscreen (1)

  • ensure that you are wearing enough sunscreen. For an adult there should be two teaspoons to cover your head neck and arms, and if you are covering your whole body in a swimsuit you should be using two tablespoons of sun cream. It is important to wear sun cream thick enough to provide the right level of production
  • it is best to wear sun cream which is factor 30 + And with 4-star UVA protection
  • do you make sure that your sun cream is in date most sun creams have a shelf life of 2 to 3 years 
  • do not spend longer in the sun than you would do if you were not wearing sunscreen
  • if you plan to be out in the sun for a long period of time it is important to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before leaving the house and then reapply just before leaving the house 
  • it is important to apply sunscreen liberally to all exposed areas of the body paint particular attention to areas such as your ears forehead and back of your neck 
  • it is important to reapply sunscreen after you’ve been in water even if the sunscreen is labelled as water-resistant 
  • sun cream should be reapplied every 2-hours when you are in the sun 

Clothing tips for sun safety

It is important to reduce sun exposure especially in the hottest part of the day, therefore if you can try and spend some time in the shade as opposed to the sun. Try wearing longer, loose clothing such as longer trousers or a longer skirt as well as long-sleeved tops and a wide-brimmed hat to help provide shade to the face. In terms of eye protection, make sure to choose sunglasses with the CE mark to show that they are going to protect your eyes from UV rays (1).

Who should take extra precaution in the sun? (1, 2, 4)

Those who have fair skinned or freckled skin should take extra care in the sun as they are more likely to burn easily. If you are likely to spend an intense period in the sun it is important to take care to reduce sun exposure where possible. Children and babies should be kept out of the direct sun  particularly in the hottest part of the day. People with brown or black skin are less likely to suffer from burning in the sun, however, skin cancer may still occur and so it’s still important to follow the same skin safety advice. People who have multiple moles should be careful in the sun as it increases your risk of skin cancer.

If you do suffer with a lot of moles it is important to keep an eye on your moles and look particularly for any changes in shape colour border any itching bleeding or crusting that may occur with the mole if this occurs please do consult your doctor as soon as possible. 

What to do if you get sunburn?

Sunburn is when your skin becomes red, hot, painful and can become flaky. It can also blister if the burn is severe. 

If this does happen, you should try and cool the area, keep out of the sun, use aftersun cream or spray and ensure to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. If your skin does blister or peel, do not try and remove the skin (3). 

Heat exhaustion or sun stroke? (4)

Heat exhaustion or heat stroke can occur when the body becomes overheated. 

The signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • headache
  • dizziness and confusion
  • loss of appetite and feeling sick
  • excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
  • cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
  • rapid breathing or pulse
  • a high temperature of 38ºC or above
  • thirst

If you feel that someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, take them to a cool, shaded area and lie them down with their feet raised slightly. Cool them further using a cold flannel, cool packs, or by applying water to their skin. Get them to drink plenty of water ( Sports or rehydration drinks are also okay).

If this is treated very quickly and the person is cooled down within 30 minutes of the onset of symptoms this is unlikely to be serious however if it is left untreated the consequences may lead to heat stroke and  hospital admission. 

Signs of heatstroke include:

  • still feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
  • not sweating despite feeling hot
  • a high temperature of 40C or above
  • rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • confusion
  • a fit (seizure)
  • loss of consciousness
  • unresponsive

If this happens, put the person in the recovery position and call 999

You can prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke by avoiding the sun in the hottest part of the day between 11am and 3pm, making sure that you are very well hydrated and avoiding excessive exercise or alcohol intake during hot periods.


It is very important that you have enough water during hot weather. This can be particularly difficult as adults and children will not recognise their loss of fluid through e.g. sweat. The best way to tell if you are hydrated enough is to ensure that when you are passing urine every few hours that the urine that you’re passing is clear. If your urine is becoming yellow or dark it is important that you can see more water as this is a sign that your body is dehydrated. You may also notice that you have dry lips, mouth or dry skin if you are dehydrated. The consequences of dehydration can be very severe and can affect your kidneys as well as other organs. 

Children and sun safety (5)

The advice for children is to avoid sun exposure between 10am and 4pm during summer months. Children under 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight and also should not use sunscreen. Children should be kept cool and in the shade where possible as they can dehydrate much more easily than an adult. The risk of developing skin cancer in later life can be related to spending prolonged time in the sun, particularly during childhood and early adulthood. 


We hope this article was useful – please ensure to share it with friends and family so that everyone can enjoy the good weather safely.


  1. NHS. Sunscreen and sun safety [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Jul 13]. Available from:,at%20least%20factor%2030%20sunscreen
  2. Skin Cancer Foundation. Ask the Expert: Does a High SPF Protect My Skin Better? [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Jul 13]. Available from:
  3. NHS. Sunburn [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jul 13]. Available from:
  4. NHS. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Jul 13]. Available from:
  5. Sun Safety for Children and Babies [Internet]. ucsfbenioffchildrenshospital. [cited 2022 Jul 13]. Available from:,should%20also%20wear%20prescription%20sunglasses.

Sun safety during the heatwave was last modified: July 15th, 2022 by Nirja Joshi

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