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Protect Your Skin: How to Avoid Sun Exposure

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Here's Why: | Here's How: | The UV Index

Although you may feel healthier with a bit of a tan…your skin sure does not! The sunlight that warms our bones and makes flowers grow contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Too much UV radiation can damage the skin.

Here's Why:

Exposure to UV radiation from sunlight can lead to:

  • Sunburn—This is the most obvious and most immediate sign of too much sun. Your skin will be red and tender, and it may swell and blister. You may even run a fever and feel nauseous from a sunburn.
  • Premature wrinkling and uneven skin pigmentation—Over time, too much sun exposure will cause your skin's texture to change. The skin can become tough and leathery, and you may notice more wrinkles. In addition, the sun can cause sun spots—discolorations in the skin's tone that may be brown, red, yellow, or gray.
  • Skin cancer—This is the most serious result of too much sun. Every month, check your skin for any signs, such as changes in the size, texture, or color of a mole.

Here's How:

Avoid Overexposure

To help protect your skin when you are in the sun, follow these simple tips:

  • Try to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when the sun's rays are most damaging.
  • Do not deliberately sunbathe.
  • Do not use tanning devices, like tanning booths or tanning lamps.

Wear Sunscreen

  • Always wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Use a "broad spectrum sunscreen." This type absorbs UVA and UVB rays of the sun.
  • Apply sunscreen to all exposed areas approximately 30 minutes before sun exposure. Use the amounts recommended by the manufacturer. Do not forget the back of your neck, rims of your ears, and tops of your feet. Reapply after swimming and every couple of hours.

Wear Sun-Protective Clothing

  • Choose hats and clothing with a high UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). This is the amount of the sun's UV rays that are being absorbed by your clothing before they get to your skin. A rating of 50+ offers a lot of sun protection.
  • Choose clothing made from tightly-woven fabric. This will absorb more of the sun's UV rays. Darker colors absorb rays better than light colors. Hold clothes up to the sun to see how much light comes through. Clothes that do not let much light through will be more protective. For example, a dark denim shirt offers more protection than a white t-shirt. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants will give more protection.
  • Wear a wide-brim hat and sunglasses. A hat with a six inch brim all around is best. Choose sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Consider clothing that has been treated to offer more sun protection. Some clothing may be treated with special UV absorbers or chemical sunblock. Be careful, as these may lose their sun protective qualities over time.

The UV Index

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Weather Service put out the UV Index. This is a daily report on the UV radiation levels in different areas in the country. Here is how to interpret the number:

  • 0 to 2—low danger from the sun's UV rays for the average person.
    • EPA's tips—If it's a sunny day, wear sunglasses. Are you someone who burns easily? If so, make sure you apply sunscreen and wear clothes that protect your skin.
  • 3 to 5—moderate risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure
    • EPA's tips—If you plan on being outside, wear sun-protective clothing. Avoid being outside around midday.
  • 6 to 7—high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure
    • EPA's tips—Use sunscreen and wear sun-protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses. Avoid being outside between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • 8-10—very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure
    • EPA's tips—Follow the tips above, but be even more careful! You can burn quickly.
  • 11+—extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure
    • EPA's tips—Again, be aware of how easy it is for your skin to burn. Keep your skin safe!


American Academy of Dermatology


The Skin Cancer Foundation



Canadian Dermatology Association


Canadian Cancer Society



Get in on the trend. The Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/clothing/get-in-on-the-trend. Accessed June 20, 2012

Skin cancer: prevention. American Academy of Family Physicians, Family Doctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/prevention.html. Updated February 2011. Accessed June 20, 2012

Preventing skin cancer. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/prevention-guidelines. Accessed June 20, 2012

Prevention guidelines. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/prevention-guidelines. Accessed June 20, 2012

UV index scale. United States Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/uviscale.html. Accessed June 20, 2012

Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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