Protect your skin from UV damage with the SunSmart Code

Using sunscreen alone is not enough to protect your skin from UV damage. Aim to follow the four steps of the SunSmart to get the best protection and check the UV Index daily.

Step 1: Get some shade

When in Ireland UV rays are usually at their strongest between 11am and 3pm. 

Plan your day so that you know you will be able to go into the shade as much as possible between those times. This may mean using natural shade or bring something with you, such as a big umbrella. 

Step 2: Cover Up with clothes and a hat

Slip on some clothes

One of the simplest things you can do to protect your skin from UV rays is to cover it with clothes. You don’t have to buy special clothes either; most fabrics will provide some protection. 

Choose clothes that cover as much skin as possible. For example, wear a shirt with a collar and three-quarter length sleeves and three-quarter length trousers.

Some fabrics give better UV protection than others. Here is some information on what to watch out for:

  • Linen, cotton and hemp are tightly woven fabrics and let less UV rays through
  • Dark colours absorb UV rays and so give better protection
  • Wearing layers of clothes also gives better protection
  • Stretched fabric gives less protection so make sure clothes are loose
  • Wet fabrics give less protection
  • Old threadbare or faded clothes will probably give less protection over time

Slap on a hat

Make sure it gives shade to the face, neck, head and ears. A baseball hat is not ideal as it does not give enough shade. Good examples are a broad brimmed, bucket or legionnaire style hat.

Make sure to pack a bucket or legionnaire hat - it's a lifesaver!

Choosing a hat for a child that is comfortable and that they like will make it more likely they will continue to wear it. However, it may take persistence on your part to get them to realise that a hat is part of their outfit when outdoors.

Step 3: Wear sunglasses

The eyes can be damaged by UV rays. Short term UV exposure can result in mild irritation, difficulty with bright lights, excessive blinking and sunburn of the cornea. Long term exposure can result in cataracts and cancer. Choosing to wear a hat that gives shade to the eyes and sunglasses that give UV protection can help protect your eyes from these conditions.

As eye damage from UV radiation can start at an early age it is a good idea to protect children’s eyes with sunglasses when they are old enough to wear them. Make sure the glasses fit well and that they are not a safety hazard. Toy sunglasses do not provide protection from UV rays so are not useful in this regard. If a child refuses to wear sunglasses don’t forget that a broad brimmed hat and shade also give some protection to the eyes from UV damage.

When choosing your sunglasses

  • Go for wrap-around
  • Make sure they give UV protection

Check tags to make sure they give enough protection. Look out for:

  • European Standard EN1836
  • British Standard BS 27241987

Step 4: Use sunscreen

Using sunscreen alone will not give enough protection against UV radiation. It is important to use shade, clothes and sunglasses as well as sunscreen to get the best protection.

The Irish Cancer Society advises that adults use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and UVA protection

What to think about when choosing and using sunscreen

  • Apply to dry skin 20 minutes before going outside
  • Be extra careful of those areas that do not get much exposure as they will then to burn more easily
  • For the average adult you will need 35mls of sunscreen to cover the whole body. Half a teaspoon to cover each arm, the face, neck and ears. Use one teaspoon full for each leg, the front and the back of the body.
  • Reapply every two hours
  • Check the products use-by date and store it below 30°C
  • Choose a water resistant type if sweating or you are involved in watersports

Always check for the UVA logo on the bottle

Check the UV index

The UV index will help you plan your outdoor activities in ways that reduce your risk of skin damage from UV radiation. It is important to protect your skin from UV damage, whatever the weather, from April to September in Ireland. However, take extra care when the UV index is 3 or more.

Find the UV Index here UV Index for the latest UV information from around Ireland.

Protecting children from UV damage

While skin cancer is rare in children much of the UV damage that leads to skin cancer takes place in the early years of life. Children’s skin is also more sensitive to UV radiation than adults. For these reasons it is important to protect their skin and encourage them to be SunSmart. Habits learned at this early stage in life will stand to them throughout life.

Find out how to keep your babies and older children safe in the sun