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Stay Safe in the Sun

by Hannah Knight

Suitable for Key Stage 3/4


To learn how to protect ourselves from harmful exposure to the sun during the summer holidays.

Preparation and materials

  • Gather some images of tanned individuals and examples of skin cancer and have the means to display them during the assembly.
  • To find out more about the subject of skin cancer, visit the following websites:

  • You could arrange for some of the students to read many of the sections of the assembly if you wish.
  • Have available the song ‘Sun is shining’ by Bob Marley and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


1. In the last century, it has become fashionable to have a suntan and the use of sunbeds, self-tanning and fake tan products has increased hugely.

In the 1920s, the designer Coco Chanel popularized tanning by using tanned models in advertisements for her products. Together with health professionals supporting the idea that spending time in the sun was good for your health and well-being, a suntan became associated with pleasure and relaxation, so there was an increase in the sales of tanning products and people sunning themselves with little or no protection.

Interestingly, in previous centuries, having a suntan was something people avoided as it was a sign of poor social status. To have a suntan then meant that you were a manual labourer, working outdoors. For this reason, upper-class people, ladies especially, would shield themselves from the sun to maintain what were then their fashionable fair complexions. That is why in most period dramas women carry parasols and wear hats in sunny weather.

2. The change occurred because a suntan came to represent the fact that you had the wealth to travel abroad on holiday for the sole purpose of getting a tan. The media then and now show us many celebrities with tanned skin in exotic places, confirming this opinion.

3. So, the question is, just how far will we go to have a suntan?

It seems that people will do almost anything for a suntan these days – from sunning themselves on the beach or in their back gardens to using a sunbed.

4. Sadly, around 13,300 cases of melanoma skin cancer and 102,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year.

5. A common misconception is that sunbeds are a safe alternative to sunbathing, but that is not the case. The main cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, whatever the source. Shockingly the amount of UVA the skin is exposed to on a sunbed can be 10 to15 times greater than that from the midday sun.

In a study carried out in 2014, it was calculated that an average sunbed user who tans for 12 minutes every 8 days between the ages of 20 and 35 is 90 per cent more likely to develop skin cancer by the time he or she is 50 or older than non-sunbed users. Is it really worth it?

6. These results don’t mean sunbathing instead is OK. Did you know that one day of sunburn at any age doubles your risk of developing skin cancer? That is why it is so important for children and young people to be suitably protected from the sun as it could lead to cancer and premature ageing later in life.

7. Despite the fact that we don’t live in a hot country, we still need to take precautions in the sun. Here are some tips for keeping safe.

– Use a high SPF (sun protection factor) suncream. Many people use the lowest SPF suncream they can find, believing that it will maximize their tan. Think of your skin as a plant. A little sun will help it to grow, but too much sun will dry it out and cause it to slowly deteriorate. The same is true of our skin. Factor 50 will protect you from harmful UV rays, but it will also allow you to tan.

– Minimize exposure to the sun. We all lead busy lives and sometimes we can forget how long we have been out in the sun. Whether we are gardening, sitting by a sunny window, walking to school or laying on a beach, we are at risk. There are ways of getting round this, find a shady tree to sit under, put up an umbrella on the beach, cover up with a hat, sunglasses and a loose bit of clothing or avoid going out during the hottest parts of the day. You can’t always avoid the sun, but you can try to minimize its bad effects. The Australian government say ‘Slip Slap, Slop’ – that is, slip on a T-shirt, slap on some lotion, slop on a hat.

– Fake it! Use spray tans, fake tan or tinted moisturizers if you simply must have a tan as these are all ways to achieve the effect without the risk.

8. If you have friends or family who do not take sun protection seriously, why not share some of the things you have learned today with them. Younger siblings, for example, often follow the example of their older siblings. You could even help to raise awareness of skin cancer by organizing events or spreading the word on social media sites. Visit the Cancer Research, Macmillan and NHS websites for more ideas.

9. Remember, though, that it is important to have a little sunshine as it is a vital source of vitamin D. All the same, you now also know that a tan is far from being a sign of health – it is a reaction to DNA damage in the skin. It is a sign that your body is trying to repair that damage, so enjoy the sun but also be sun safe!

Time for reflection

Let us take the time to be thankful for our healthcare system, for the friends and family who support us in times of need and for education about how to stay healthy. Let us continue to work as a community to raise awareness and support those with cancer.


‘Sun is shining’ by Bob Marley

Publication date: July 2015   (Vol.17 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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