The UK is currently basking in a heatwave, which means across the country many families are enjoying relaxing in the sun in the garden or local park. Usually, the merest sight of sunshine means tops off and BBQ’s fired up.

Indeed, home or abroad, a hot sunny day spent by the pool or down on the beach is something most of us look forward to. And while sunshine holidays means packing sun tan lotion, we cannot rely on the ozone layer to protect us from the sun’s harmful UV rays at home any more.

More than ever, knowing how to apply sunscreen properly is essential, even if you wear sun protective clothing. If you are reaching for the aftersun to stop yourself from peeling, the damage has been done. You need to look at how you protect yourself, not dealing with the aftermath of dead cells.

According to cancer research, based on data from 2016-18, there are around 46 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every day. And with recent climate change, this number is likely higher. You may be surprised that while Australia has the highest rate of diagnosed skin cancer cases, Germany topped it in number of cases in 2020 and has a similar climate to the UK.

But this doesn’t mean you should hide away, going outdoors has great benefits to your mental and physical health, plus vitamin D is good for you. So lather up, wear a hat and go on a walk, or exercise; play golf, tennis or any of the array of summer activities.

Just remember to follow the Aussies and Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, and Slide, as it the sunlight does hit differently there. Or listen to Baz Luhrmann’s wear sunscreen advice if that is what it takes. Also our European cousins have adapted well, often taking siestas and sheltering from the peak strength midday sun. And you never see them sunburnt (although their natural oily skin might also have something to do with that).

Cancer Council Slip Slap Slop Seek Slide
Australia’s sage sun protection advice to slop on the sun block, slap on a hat and seek shade

Sunscreen helps protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays, which can cause skin cancer, premature aging, and sunburn. So to avoid skin damage, adequate precautions should be made.

Before we start, lets do a bit of name calling. We don’t really call it sunscreen in the UK, although the name is more apt for the purpose. Some call it sun cream, some suntan lotion (and not to be confused with tanning oil which enhance and accelerate tanning of the skin).

But the key is in the SPF value (although it comes in various forms including sprays, lotions, creams and lip balms which in truth have a big impact on how long it lasts as well).

How does SPF work?

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a measure of how well a sunscreen can protect the skin by blocking or absorbing the UV (ultraviolet) radiation that is harmful to the skin. The higher the SPF number, the more protection provided against UVB rays (crucially not UVA protection so check the bottle).

The scale is skin type specific based on x times longer for your skin to burn than if you were not wearing any sun screen at all. For example, if you apply an SPF 30, it will take 30 times longer to burn, which is a lot less for those with fair skin.

How To Apply Sunscreen Properly
The method for applying sunscreen is with the fingers and to fully rub it in

How Are You Supposed To Apply Sun Tan Lotion?

Okay, lets get down to how to apply sunscreen properly according to the experts. When applying product, using enough and applying it evenly is essential. How much sunscreen to use of course depends on the coverage needed. The recommended amount is about two tablespoons for the entire body. It should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

It is also vital to pay attention to areas often overlooked, such as the ears, the nose back of the neck, and tops of the feet. And use a SPF lip balm too. And if it’s a case of sun’s out, bum’s out, make sure you give those cheeks a rub too. These delicate areas can quickly get burned if not adequately protected with sunscreen correctly.

The debate about rubbing it in or letting it soak in has raged for years, but skincare experts and dermatologists have advised that it should be fully rubbed in so that it is no longer visible on every application.

Using your fingers is the optimum way to apply the sunscreen as using tools like brushes and sponges can often lead to the sun cream being absorbed into the applicator before the skin causing you to miss spots and also using more sun lotion than necessary.

Additionally, using a higher SPF means you can only spend time in the sun for a while without having to reapply. It should constantly be reapplied regardless of SPF level to ensure proper protection and avoid sunburn.

A child having sun cream applied to her face
All dermatologists recommend that we apply a high level of protection when exposed to the sun when spending time outdoors

Sunscreen & Kids

To all parents out there who have battled to get that all-important sunscreen onto their soft, smooth skin will know what a task it can become. Sun cream as the name suggests can be oily and slimy to them but as the skin of most children has had less exposure to harmful UVA & UVB rays they need to have a more stringent routine of sunscreen application.

Most dermatologist and paediatricians will advise that an SPF of at least 50 should be applied properly to the skin 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and then reapply sunscreen every two hours regardless of activities and water filled fun as they will likely be out in the direct sun most of the time. The optimum is to use a rub in lotion as opposed to a spray but that is not always as easy as it sounds on paper.

Yes, at times it can be like wrestling an octopus, but it’s important. Luckily there are some easier options like dry mist spray, which is great for the beach for a quick top up. But please note this is not great protection. It’s better to do a full lotion in the morning and use it just for an extra layer.

The American Academy Of Dermatology recommends that you “keep babies younger than 6 months old out of the direct sunlight. When going outside, dress your baby in lightweight clothes that cover arms and legs — and don’t forget a hat with a brim. If you can’t avoid the sun, you can use a small amount of sunscreen on your baby’s exposed skin, like the hands and face.” Ultimately a sun tent, umbrella and cover on a pram should always be used.

As with all children you will need to read the labels and list of ingredients to ensure that your child avoids any kind of allergic reaction to the sunscreen. If you do sense a reaction then seek medical advice immediately.

I’m not a dermatologist, but as a parent I use Tesco’s Soleil range on holidays as follows: The water resistant lotion in the morning all over before getting the kids dressed, the moisturising face sun cream, and the spray sunscreen for topping up every few hours. I only use the dry mist on the beach as found out the hard way it is not adequate protection even when factor 50 as is a thin layer only and not fully absorbed.

Then ideally I try to get the children to wear hats and avoid the sun between 12-2pm. In addition, my son wears a UV t-shirt and shorts, and my fashion conscious daughter who will only wear a bikini is encouraged to use the shade more as a compromise. I can’t say this is the best method, but neither have had sunburn on our holidays. I wish I could say the same about me.

tesco soleil sun protection range
The Tesco Soleil range is our personal pick with variety of options and at affordable prices

What Does Water-Resistant Mean

Most sunscreens, sun creams, sun lotions will advise that they are water-resistant which means that are effective for anywhere between 40 to 80 minutes whilst in the water. The ingredients used to make them water-resistant means that they lotion is more durable when wet so they can be worn if you are going to swim.

That said, the lotion needs to be reapplied once you have left the water and after you have dried your skin effectively for another layer of sunscreen.

Which Factors (SPF) Should We Use

When choosing a sunscreen, it is crucial to consider the Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which indicates how well the product protects against UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sun protection with an SPF of at least 30. However, it’s worth noting that a higher SPF does not necessarily mean better protection.

Another factor to consider is whether it provides broad spectrum sunscreen protection. This means that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays which can penetrate clouds and penetrate glass. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, including leathery skin, and can cause long-term damage, such as premature ageing and skin cancer.

It’s important to remember that no sunscreen offers complete protection from the sun, so other measures should also be taken, such as seeking shade during peak hours and wearing protective clothing like hats and sunglasses. Additionally, reapplication every two hours or after swimming or sweating is crucial for maintaining adequate protection throughout the day.

Sunscreen has become essential to our daily routine, especially during the summer months. It helps protect our skin from harmful UV rays that can cause skin cancer and premature ageing. 

Bottles of sunscreen with 30 SPF
The sun protection factor is specially formulated to block ultraviolet rays from our skin

Other Names For Sunscreen In The UK And Beyond

Sunscreen is a common term used in the US and many other countries, but it goes by different names in the UK and beyond. In the UK, sunscreen is often referred to as sun cream or sun block. The term “sun cream” is commonly used for lotions with a lower SPF rating, while “sunblock” refers to products with higher SPF ratings.

In Australia, sunscreen is also known as sun cream or simply “sunscreens.” However, Australians tend to be more specific when referring to these products based on their intended use. For example, they refer to water-resistant sunscreens as “swimwear,” while those designed for sports activities are called “sport.”

In some parts of Europe, such as France and Italy, sunscreen may be referred to as “protection solaire”, which translates directly into “solar protection.” Other terms include “creme solaire,” meaning “suncream,” or just simply “protection UV.” These names are indicative of the product’s primary function – protecting against harmful UV rays from direct sunlight.

What Is In Sunscreen

And now for the science bit. Sunscreen is a product that contains various chemicals that work together to protect the skin from harmful UV rays. The two main types of ingredients in sunscreen are organic and inorganic filters. Organic filters absorb UV radiation and convert it into heat, while inorganic filters reflect or scatter the UV radiation away from the skin.

Some common organic filters found in sunscreen lotion include avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. Inorganic filters such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are often used in physical sunscreens because they provide a barrier on the surface of the skin to block out UV rays.

In addition to these active ingredients, many sunscreens contain other additives such as emollients for moisturizing, preservatives for stability, and fragrances for scent. It’s essential to read labels carefully when choosing a sunscreen to ensure you’re selecting one with appropriate protection levels and without any potential irritants or allergens.

woman with sunburn on shoulders
Sunburn damages your skin cells and can be avoided with correct sun protection

Most Famous Brands That Make Sunscreen

Most people have heard of Nivea and other big brands, but now most UK supermarkets make their own very capable and affordable versions. Boots Soltan is also popular for a reason. Personally, I genuinely use the Tesco Soleil range and it’s great.

Another well-known brand is Neutrogena, which offers both chemical sunscreen and mineral-based sunscreens. They market their products to individuals with sensitive skin or who prefer more natural ingredients. In addition to traditional sunscreens, they also have a line specifically designed for athletes that claim to be sweat-resistant.

Hawaiian Tropic is another famous brand that focuses on providing protection and an enjoyable experience through the tropical scents and oils added to some of their products. But interesting they failed some SPF tests for Which’s sun cream review list. They offer both traditional lotions as well as spray-on options in various SPFs. Additionally, they have expanded into after-sun care products such as moisturizers and cooling gels to soothe sunburned skin.

One of the most popular sunscreen brands in America is Coppertone, which has existed since 1944. Their products are known for their signature scent and a recognizable logo featuring a little girl and her dog. They offer a variety of options, including sprays, lotions, and sticks with varying levels of SPF.

The key to finding the right sunscreen for you is understanding your skin type and needs while considering factors such as activity level and exposure time. It’s important to remember that no matter what brand you choose, applying enough products frequently throughout the day will provide the best protection against harmful UV rays.

Face sunscreen and hat
Everyone’s free (to wear sunscreen) and hats are recommended too to protect your skin and avoid sun damage

Origins Of Sunscreen

In theory, it has been used for thousands of years, with ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and Egyptians using natural ingredients like olive oil and rice bran to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays. In fact, it was Hippocrates who first documented the use of a salve made from zinc oxide by ancient Persians to treat skin conditions caused by exposure to sunlight.

The modern formulation of sunscreen can be traced back to the early 20th century when chemists began experimenting with various compounds that could absorb or reflect UV radiation.

The first commercially available sunscreen was invented by Aussie H.A. Milton Blake in  1932. And L’oreal released its first sun protection product in 1936, formulated by French chemist Eugène Schueller.

Notably in 1946 Swiss chemist Franz Greiter, who developed a product called Gletscher Crème (Glacier Cream, later to become Piz Buin) after suffering from severe sunburn while climbing a mountain. He also created the SPF global standard for measuring UVB protection in 1974.

Since then, technological advances have led to the development of more effective and longer-lasting sunscreens with higher sun protection factor that offer protection against UVA and UVB radiation. Today, hundreds of different types of sun-screen are on the market, ranging from lotions and sprays to powders and sticks.

Despite this wide variety of options, however, many people still need help with how best to apply sun lotion for maximum UV protection.

Sunscreen Celebrity Endorsements

Many celebrities have endorsed various sunscreen brands over the years. Some of the most notable endorsements include Jennifer Aniston for Aveeno, Nicole Kidman for Neutrogena, and Hugh Jackman for L’Oreal Paris. These celebrity endorsements help promote awareness of sun protection’s importance and encourage people to use sunscreen regularly.

In addition to promoting specific brands, some celebrities have also used their platforms to advocate for safe sun practices in general. For example, Beyonce has spoken about the perils of skin cancer and the importance of wearing hats and protective clothing when spending time in the sun. At the same time, Gwyneth Paltrow has emphasized the benefits of using natural and organic sunscreen products.

While celebrity endorsements can effectively raise awareness about sun protection, it’s important to remember that not all products are created equal. Consumers should always do their own research before selecting a sunscreen brand or product, paying attention to factors such as SPF level, ingredients list, and user reviews. Everyone should prioritize protecting their skin from harmful UV rays by using high-quality sunscreen products regularly.


So there you go, hopefully we covered how to apply sunscreen properly, um adequately. In summary, it’s vital to apply water resistant sun cream correctly by following the recommended amount (about a shot glass full) and reapplying every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Choosing a sun screen with broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays is also crucial for optimal sun protection.

In conclusion, proper application of enough sunscreen is critical to ensuring maximum effectiveness against harmful ultraviolet radiation exposure.