Too much sunlight is harmful to your skin. A tan is a sign that the skin has been damaged. The damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight.

If work keeps you outdoors for a long time your skin could be exposed to more sun than is healthy for you. Outdoor workers that could be at risk include farm or construction workers, gardeners, outdoor activity workers and some public service workers. You should take particular care if you have:

fair or freckled skin that doesn’t tan, or goes red or burns before it tans;

red or fair hair and light-coloured eyes;

a large number of moles.

People of all skin colours should take care to avoid damage to the eyes, overheating and dehydration.

What are the harmful effects?

In the short term, even mild reddening of the skin from sun exposure is a sign of damage. Sunburn can blister the skin and make it peel.

Longer term problems can arise. Too much sun speeds up ageing of the skin, making it leathery, mottled and wrinkled. The most serious effect is an increased chance of developing skin cancer.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Keep your top on.

Wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and the back of the neck.

Stay in the shade whenever possible, during your breaks and especially at lunch time.

Use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin.

Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Check your skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. See a doctor promptly if you find anything that is changing in shape, size or colour, itching or bleeding.

Where can you get further information?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced the following free guides that contain lots of helpful information for outdoor workers and employers.

Health risks from working in the sun 

Advice for employers of outdoor workers