Around 4 in 10 UK adults (41%) say they have spent more time in the sun since the COVID-19 lockdown started, compared with the same time last year, according to new figures released from Cancer Research UK and NIVEA SUN.
With more people exercising outside and spending more time at home due to COVID-19, Cancer Research UK and NIVEA SUN are urging people to think about their risk of sunburn and consider sun protection – shade, clothing, sunscreen – in their day-to-day life when the sun is strong.
“The sun isn’t only strong abroad. It can be strong enough to cause damage in the UK from the start of April to the end of September. So even if it doesn’t feel that warm, or it’s a cloudy day, it’s still possible to get burnt.” – Claire Knight, Cancer Research UK’s senior health information manager.
The YouGov survey, which asked 2,060 UK adults about their behaviour in the sun, found respondents said they are not protecting themselves properly from the sun in the UK, with 7% – which translates to around 3.7 million in the UK adult population overall – saying they don’t do anything to protect their skin when the sun is strong.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic millions* may be planning to stay in the UK this summer rather than go abroad, but the survey indicates that people could be at risk of sun damage as 35% of UK adults say they don’t take care in strong sun in their own outside space (garden, balcony etc.). The data suggests that, when the UK sun is strong, people are better at being safe in the sun when doing traditional summer activities for example, on the beach (76%), at the park (63%), at a picnic (62%) and gardening (59%).
But when it comes to more day-to-day tasks, UK adults are not taking steps to protect themselves from the sun in the UK, which is just as strong on the beach or on a balcony. Only half (50%) said they used sun protection when the sun is strong when exercising outside, only 47% whilst doing DIY outside, only 35% when walking to the shops and only 29% when working from home outside or by an open window.
One method of sun protection is sunscreen, but the survey shows that UK adults aren’t applying it often enough in the UK. Only 60% of UK adults who use sunscreen apply it before going out in the sun, and just 37% take it with them to apply throughout the day.
This could be worrying from a sun safety perspective as the results found that sunscreen and spending time in the shade are the most common methods of sun protection use, but people may not be applying sunscreen frequently enough. In addition, not as many UK adults said they use other forms of sun protection with only with only 43% of respondents wearing a top that covers their shoulders and just 42% wearing a hat.
The results also highlighted that UK adults are confused about sun safety and in particular, don’t recognise the signs of sun damage. The risk of sunburn varies from person to person, and sun damage can look different depending on skin type – for people with darker skin types, their skin might feel hot or itchy rather than change colour. The survey found that around a quarter (24%) thought it was false or didn’t know that know if skin goes pink but then a tan develops, it still counts as being burnt.
The survey also asked UK parents with children under 18 about their views on sun safety, revealing further confusion and challenges. Around a quarter of UK parents (26%) who, on a sunny day in the UK, use sunscreen on their children but don’t reapply it throughout the day, think their children are adequately protected after one application of sunscreen. Over half (52%) UK parents said that applying sunscreen frequently enough or applying enough of it are among the main challenges to protecting their child in the sun.
Claire Knight, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK advises: “This YouGov survey shows that confusion and myths about sun safety could be putting people at risk of skin damage that can build up over time and lead to melanoma skin cancer. The sun isn’t only strong abroad. It can be strong enough to cause damage in the UK from the start of April to the end of September. So even if it doesn’t feel that warm, or it’s a cloudy day, it’s still possible to get burnt. It’s so important that the millions of people who could be planning on staying in the UK this summer remember to protect their skin. There are easy ways to stay safe in the sun at home this summer, for example, using a gazebo or a beach umbrella for shade and taking regular breaks inside when the sun is strongest between 11am and 3pm. When you’re heading out pop on a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses and pack some sunscreen so you can keep it topped up throughout the day.”