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Sunbathing and Tanning


Spending too much time in the sun can be dangerous. Ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight can damage the cells in your body, which can lead to skin cancer, wrinkles and premature ageing.

Tanning is a natural process – it is your body’s way of protecting itself from the sun. When your skin is exposed to sunlight it creates a chemical called melanin, which makes your skin go darker. It prevents you from burning so easily, but it does not protect you from premature ageing and cancer.

The less melanin you have, the less protection you have against the sun. People with fair skin have less melanin than people with darker skin and are therefore more likely to burn. People with red hair or freckles are also more likely to burn.

It is important to protect your skin against the sun’s rays by applying a high factor sun tan lotion or covering exposed skin with loose clothing, a hat and sunglasses.

The sun’s rays are more powerful near water, sand and snow – so be extra careful by using a higher factor sun tan lotion and applying it more regularly.

Sunburn and skin cancer

Sunburn is caused by over-exposure to the sun resulting in red, sore and peeling or blistering skin. Wearing the wrong sun lotion factor or not wearing any suntan lotion at all most commonly causes it.

Applying aloe-vera gel or after-sun lotion can treat sunburn. In serious cases however, it may require hospital treatment. Avoid butter or petroleum based lotions to treat the sunburn – they trap the heat in your skin rather than cool it down.

Every time skin gets burnt or tanned, damage is caused to the skin cells that can cause skin cancer so it is important to take care of your skin in the sun.

In 2010, 12,818 people in the UK were diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer.

It is important to keep an eye on any changes to moles or birthmarks, such as a change of colour or size or if they become itchy, painful or tender.

Other warning signs include:

  • The appearance of dark or irregular growths or spots
  • A spread of pigment
  • Bleeding around birthmarks

If you have any of these symptoms, you must see your doctor immediately. Many cancers can be treated if they are caught early enough.


It is illegal to use a sunbed if you are under 16. Sunbeds should not be used daily.

Sunbeds are just as dangerous as the sun as they emit harmful UV rays. These can cause skin cancer, premature aging and wrinkles.

If you choose to use one, make sure you wear goggles to protect your eyes.

For a safe tan, with no risk of ageing or skin cancer, use a fake tan. There are some very natural fake tans, available in sprays, creams and mousses, on the market. Fake tan does not offer any protection from the sun.

The benefits of sunshine

Although too much exposure to the sun can be damaging, sunshine does have its benefits. UV radiation is our main source of Vitamin D which helps build strong bones and muscles. Sunlight also triggers chemicals in our brain, which makes us feel happy.

If you are worried about skin cancer and sunbathing, talk to your GP who can give you more advice on staying safe in the sun.

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