Sunscreen and sunburn

Don’t forget the sunscreen – even when you’re driving

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) in sunlight

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) in sunlight

Besides causing the uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms of sun burn, over exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is one of the main causes of skin cancer.

Every year more than 13,000 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma in the UK. Most cases can be cured if diagnosed and treated early but around a fifth don’t recover from treatment.

Anyone can develop skin cancer, but you are more likely to get the disease if you have fair skin that burns easily, lots of moles or freckles, red or fair hair and/or light-coloured eyes.

Causes of sunburn

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) in sunlight.

Two different types of UV radiation can cause sunburn and skin cancer:

  • UVB – absorbed by the top layer of skin and directly associated with sunburn
  • UVA – less potent than UVB but penetrates deeper into the skin reducing elasticity and causing premature aging.

Exposure to both UVA and UVB increases the risk of developing skin cancer.


The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is mainly a measure of UVB protection.  It’s best to choose a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen capable of protecting against both UVA and UVB.

UVA protection is indicated by a star rating from one star (minimum) to five stars (ultra).

New research suggests that sunscreen alone should not be relied on to prevent skin cancer and should be combined with other methods of protection such as hats, loose clothing or moving into shade.

Car windows

Car windows don’t block all UV radiation but levels inside the car will vary depending on the type of glass, whether windows or the sunroof are open or closed and the direction of travel relative to the sun.

  • Clear side windows - block virtually all of the UVB radiation but only about a third of UVA radiation.
  • Laminated glass - used in windscreens and in some side windows, can block all UVB radiation and more than three quarters of UVA radiation.

AA advice

  • Fair skin - if you drive a lot in the summer and have any of the characteristics that make you more susceptible to skin cancer, wear sunscreen or cover up, even if you keep windows closed and rely on the air-conditioning to keep cool.
  • Windows open - wear sunscreen or cover up if you’re driving in summer with windows or a sunroof open.
  • Convertible – always wear a hat and sunscreen if driving with the roof down in summer.  Make sure that passengers, particularly children are protected too.
  • Be prepared – there’s often little or no shade on the hard shoulder so, in case of breakdown, carry sun hat(s) long-sleeved clothing and sunscreen in the summer in the same way you would carry warm clothes or wet weather gear in the winter.
  • Sunscreen - choose a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen offering effective protection against both UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Shade – try to stay out of the sun when it’s at its strongest around the middle of the day
  • Children – remember that children’s skin is more sensitive.  Use sunscreen and clothing to protect them and consider fitting extra shading to car windows.
  • Sunglasseswear sunglasses that provide UV protection

The AA is working with Melanoma UK and Uvistat suncream to promote staying safe in the sun this summer.

(17 July 2014)


Free sun cream

AA Patrols will be handing out free sachets of sun cream and sun safety leaflets at selected festivals and other major events throughout the summer

Follow the 5 S's of sun protection