Pop culture is a wonderful thing sometimes. Everytime I write about sunscreen, Baz Luhrmann comes to mind but as the Irish Cancer Society told us, there's a little more that we should be doing to protect ourselves.

There are many elements to a holiday checklist: flights, accommodation, transfers, restaurants and activity tips – the list goes on.

Health while travelling is always a top priority, and with so many of us taking sun holidays, especially given the continually uncertain Irish weather – skin care is a vital element of planning your health abroad.

With this mind, we spoke to Kevin O’Hagan, the Irish Cancer Society’s cancer prevention manager, about how to protect your skin while on vacation.

sun cream
Follow the Sun Smart Code this Summer

1. What are the key recommendations for people holidaying in the sun when it comes to skin protection?
"In the Irish Cancer Society, we promote the Sun Smart Code, which is basically a five-point plan."

"Firstly, we encourage people to wear protective clothing. So wearing a t-shirt with a collar, clothes with a close-weave material – something that the sun can’t easily penetrate, so a good, heavy cotton material. 

"Secondly, wear a hat, which gives shade to your neck and ears. A wide-brimmed hat. 

"Thirdly, wear sunscreen. We’d be encouraging people to wear an SPF of 30 or higher and one that has a UVA logo on it, which means that it protects you from UVA and UVB rays. 

"Fourthly, make sure to take shade. The most dangerous time is between 11am and 3pm as that’s when the UV rays are the strongest, so that’s the time to get under a tree or use an umbrella. 

"The fifth and final point is to wear appropriate sunglasses and make sure that they give you good UV protection. 

"We also encourage people to use the UV index when travelling and just be aware if there are high levels of UV in whatever part of the world they are travelling in.

"The UV index tells you how high UV is going to be on any given day, so there is a code there of one to 11 on the UV index. Anything above three or four means that you are at risk."

summer holidays
Use the UV Index this Summer

2. What about holidays that aren’t sun holidays?
"We encourage people to protect themselves in the sun from the months right through from April to September.

"Because even if it’s cloudy, we know that about 90% of UV rays can pass through light clouds, so even on a cloudy day there are UV rays penetrating through the clouds that can damage skin."

"If you’re standing outside for any extended period of time you should really be taking proper care."

"And of course there are people who are at greater risk than others: people with freckled skin or pale skin are at higher risk.

"We do know that about 75% of the Irish population have very fair skin types; these people tend to burn quite easily as opposed to tanning and especially people who have red or fair hair and a large number of moles on their body." 

sun hat
About 75% of the Irish population have very fair skin types and can burn easily

3. Are there any clothes that are particularly bad for protecting your skin?
"Anything that has a very loose-weave material, that you can almost see your hand right through it, UV rays can pass right through that.

"There’s a lot of clothes that are also being marketed now with UV protection in it that might be worth considering."

Woman in summer hat on the beach
UV waves can easily pass through loose weave material

4. How do you know what SPF cream to use for your skin?
"Our research tells us that people don’t use enough sunscreen. They don’t put it on often enough. You should put sunscreen on 30 minutes before going out and reapply it every two hours.

"If you’re sweating or swimming you lose the effect of it very quickly, so we advise using 30SPF and above, and applying it properly, that’s a problem too, people tend not to apply it properly and forget parts like ears, necks and bald patches."

sun cream at beach
Research shows that people don’t use enough sunscreen

5. When it comes to children is there any specific advice for protecting their skin?
"Children’s skin is incredibly sensitive to be damaged by UV rays and clearly we know that your children’s skin can burn very easily and the tan and the sunburn can go away but the sun damage to your skin is permanent, so it’s particularly important to protect children.

"We say keep babies under six months in the shade, they shouldn’t be in the sun at all."

"You can keep older children safe by following the five-point code and also – where possible – to use child sunscreen. Children’s sunscreen is a higher factor – usually 50 or higher."

Little baby boy sitting on the sand
Children’s sunscreen is usually 50 or higher.

6. What’s your advice regarding the use of sunbeds?
"There is a new tendency by people to use sunbeds to start their tan before they go on holiday.

"The Irish Cancer Society’s advice is never to use a sunbed before going on holiday to get a tan, or even afterwards to keep it up."

"Using a sunbed before the age of 35 increases your risk of skin cancer by almost 60%. Sunbeds are particularly dangerous."

sun bed
The Irish Cancer Society’s advice is never to use a sunbed

Find out how to avoid holiday stress this summer here.