A complete guide to sun protection and SPFs, after Hugh Jackman reveals new skin cancer scare

Hugh Jackman is urging fans to wear sun protection as he reveals he has undergone two biopsies to test for skin cancer on his nose.

The actor, 54, who has previously received treatment for basal cell carcinoma, shared the update on social media and reminded his followers to “put some sunscreen on”.

Sharing a video on his Instagram, in which he was seen with a bandage on his nose, The Greatest Showman star reassured people that basal cell carcinoma is “the least dangerous of them all”.

Jackman said that his doctor “saw little things, could be or could not be basal cell in her opinion,” which led to the two biopsies being done.

“I’ll find out in two or three days, and as soon as I know, I’ll let you know,” the actor continued. “If I can just take this opportunity to remind you, summer is coming for those of us here in the northern hemisphere, please wear sunscreen.

“It is just not worth it. No matter how much you want to tan, trust me… This is all stuff that happened 25 years ago. It’s coming out now.”

Read more: Skin cancer survivor: Mum who never sunbathes has two tumours removed from her face

Stock image of Hugh Jackman who has advised his fans to use sun protection. (Getty Images)
Hugh Jackman has urged fans to think about sun protection as he gives an update on his health. (Getty Images)

He went on to add: “Put some sunscreen on. You’ll still have an incredible time out there. Please be safe.”

The father-of-two had his first skin cancer removed in 2013 after his actress wife Deborra-Lee Furness suggested he should get a mole on his nose checked.

He wrote on social media at the time: “Deb said to get the mark on my nose checked. Boy, was she right!

“I had a Basal Cell Carcinoma. Please don’t be foolish like me. Get yourself checked. And USE sunscreen!!!”

Since then, he has been treated for skin cancer five more times, with his sixth surgery taking place in 2017.

In 2021, he underwent another skin biopsy and has consistently encouraged his fans to wear sun cream.

According to the NHS, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance.

It often develops on the face, ears, hands, shoulders, upper chest and back.

The lump slowly gets bigger and may become crusty, bleed or develop into a painless ulcer.

Basal cell carcinoma does not usually spread to other parts of the body, but if not treated, it can sometimes cause considerable skin cancer.

Read more: Former sunbed user left with bald patch after skin cancer created hole in scalp

A guide to sun protection

Though we like to think we’re SPF-aware, many of us get confused by the jargon on our sun protection labels.

Research from Superdrug revealed that six out of 10 people are unaware that the SPF rating displayed on labels does not alone guarantee protection from potential sun damage.

Nearly half (44%) of consumers admitted they didn't know what SPF means, while one in 10 incorrectly thought the SPF number relates to the minutes they could stay in the sun safely, the poll of 2,000 UK adults also found.

But with so many different terms to wade through – UVA, UVB or broad-spectrum protection – it isn’t surprising we’re getting so baffled.

And while skin cancer isn't always preventable, understanding how to protect our skin could help to reduce our chances of it.

Mother and daughter SPF. (Getty Images)
The SPF rating determines how well you and your loved ones will be protected from the sun. (Getty Images)

What is SPF?

This might be the phrase we're most used to seeing, especially as it's not just slapped across our suncream labels, but on our moisturisers too.

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is a measure of how well your sunscreen will protect your skin against UVB rays.

SPFs are rated on a scale of two to 50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with 50+ offering the strongest forms of UVB protection, according to the NHS.

Experts say the important thing to remember is that on average it takes 10 minutes for your skin, if unprotected, to show signs of burning.

For example, by applying an SPF 30 it will protect it 30 times longer, so for 300 minutes.

In other words, the higher the SPF the greater the protection of your sunscreen

But it's important to remember that these figures are just theoretical and in real life, the amount of time you can spend in the sun will also be impacted by other factors like your skin type and the local UV intensity.

Different types of suncream. (Getty Images)
As well as obvious sunburn, UVB and UVA can cause signs of ageing and wrinkles. (Getty Images)

What’s the difference between UVB and UVA?

Now for what the SPF is protecting you against – the two types of sun rays.

The NHS says the UV radiation that reaches the earth's surface can be broadly divided into UVB, which causes sunburn, and UVA, which penetrates more deeply into the skin and is responsible for the ageing effects of sunlight, such as wrinkles and brown pigmentation.

UVA is associated with affecting elastin in the skin, leading to wrinkles and sun-induced skin ageing (for example coarse wrinkles, leathery skin and pigmentation), as well as skin cancer.

A good suncream should have a UVA star rating of zero-five, which measures the absorption of UVA rays. It should be at least a four-five star rating for the best protection.

Be aware that if you choose a low SPF it may still have a high level of stars, not because it is providing lots of UVA protection, but because the ratio between the UVA and UVB protection is about the same.

It’s important to choose a high SPF as well as a high UVA protection (e.g. a high number of stars).

What does broad-spectrum protection mean?

According to Johnson & Johnson and Piz Buin skincare expert Rebecca Bennett, if a sunscreen has broad-spectrum protection it means it has the ability to protect against the harmful effects of both UVA (ageing rays) and UVB (burning rays).

“To be classified as offering broad-spectrum protection, a sunscreen product needs to absorb or reflect at least 90% of the UV rays from the 290 to 400 nanometres (nm) wavelength range,” she adds.

Read more: 'Harmless' spot on mum's nose turned out to be skin cancer

Woman applying suncream on man. (Getty Images)
Putting on suncream once and jumping straight into the pool won't cut it. (Getty Images)

What’s the difference between ‘water-resistant’ and ‘waterproof’?

It’s easy to get the two confused. After all, they basically mean the same thing, right? Not quite.

Current UK tests allow manufacturers to claim a sunscreen is water-resistant if the SPF drops by as much as 50% after two 20-minute periods of immersion.

That means if you jump into the pool with SPF30 on, it could drop to SPF15 or less when you get out.

“It's important that your sunscreen is water-resistant when you go swimming because UV radiation half a metre below the surface of water is still 40% as intense as it is on the surface,” explains Bennett.

“You also need to protect the part of your body that's above the surface, as water reflects some 25% of UV radiation and can intensify the harmful effects.”

To be safe, reapply sunscreen after you get out of the pool or water, and don't trust that suncream is entirely 'waterproof'.

Read more: Adele Roberts was having chemo while she was on Bake Off

Sunscreen application and sun behaviour tips

Now you know what the bottles contain, here's how to use them most effectively and stay safe in the sun, as per Bennett's advice:

1. Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun to allow maximum absorption and protection.

2. Make sure you're applying enough sunscreen. An insufficient quantity lowers the level of protection significantly. Pay special care to more sensitive areas, such as your ears, nose shoulders, cleavage and neck.

3. Don't neglect hard-to-reach and easily forgotten places, such as your ears, feet and upper back.

4. Re-apply sunscreen every two hours. Apply more frequently after swimming, sweating or towelling.

5. Try to avoid intense midday sun from 11am and 3pm during the summer months or when on holiday in tropical countries.

6. If you are taking medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure it's OK to spend time in the sun. Some medicines can make the skin more sensitive to the sun's rays.

7. Overexposure to the sun can threaten your health, so avoid staying out in the sun too long, even when using a sunscreen.

8. Protect children. Little ones are particularly vulnerable to the effects of UV radiation and often spend more time outdoors than adults. Parents should take special care to protect them from the sun using protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight.