Sun Safety and Skin Health

Summertime is in full-swing, which means relaxing by the pool, weekends on the lake, barbeques, outdoor sporting events, and all of the outdoor fun that warmer weather brings. Not to spoil the fun in the sun, but the flipside to so much time in the great outdoors is the risk of skin damage from ultraviolet radiation exposure. According to statistics, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer, which can be prevented by wearing sunscreen and taking precautions to protect your skin year-round (American Academy of Dermatology Association, n.d.).

There are two types of ultraviolet rays from the sun and overexposure from either can lead to skin cancer. UVA rays can pass through glass and can lead to premature aging of the skin in the forms of wrinkles and age spots. UVB rays can not pass through glass and are the big offenders in causing sunburn. Tanning, whether via natural or artificial sunlight, damages the skin and accelerates the aging process. To help prevent damage, it is recommended to apply sunscreen that is broad-spectrum (offers UVA and UVB protection), is at least SPF 30, and is water-resistant. In addition, dermatologists recommend seeking shade when necessary, wearing clothing, wide-brim hats, and sunglasses to protect against the sun, using caution near landscape that reflects sunlight (water, snow, and sand), and avoiding tanning beds. One rule of thumb is if your shadow is shorter than your height, seek shade, particularly when the rays are the strongest between 10 AM and 2 PM. Check your skin once a year for anything changing, itching, or bleeding, and seek the help of a dermatologist if so. Lastly, dermatologists recommend obtaining vitamin D through the diet rather than from the sun (American Academy of Dermatology Association, n.d.).


When applying sunscreen, be sure to cover the areas of the skin that clothing will not cover, including the tops of feet and the neck, ears, and top of the head, according to package directions, 15 minutes prior to going outside. Use a lip balm with a sunscreen of at least SPF 30. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating in accordance with product directions. Sunscreen comes in a variety of dosage forms. One thing to note about spray sunscreen products is that the FDA does evaluate their safety and efficacy but manufacturers are not required to follow their regulations on testing and standardization. The AAD recommends against purchasing and using products that have sunscreen in combination with insect repellant. This is because sunscreen should be applied more frequently than what is recommended for insect repellant (American Academy of Dermatology Association, n.d.).

If used correctly daily, a bottle of sunscreen should not last long; however, check for an expiration date and throw away any expired products. If there is no expiration date, write on the bottle the date purchased. The FDA requires all products to retain strength for a minimum of three years. If the sunscreen changes in color or consistency, it also could be an indication that the product may no longer be good.

The ADA recommends that babies younger than 6 months avoid sun exposure. In addition, avoid sunscreen in babies younger than 6 months. Further recommendations for babies who are exposed to sunlight are listed on the AAD website. Parents may apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to exposed skin of infants and toddlers 6 months and older, according to product instructions (American Academy of Dermatology Association, n.d.). Please consult a pediatrician with any questions or further consultation.

With proper sun safety, a sunburn can often be avoided. Though, if a sunburn occurs, it is important to know proper treatment to avoid prolonged discomfort. Dermatologists recommend the following for the treatment of sunburn (American Academy of Dermatology Association, n.d.).:

  • Avoid further sun exposure and keep the area protected from the sun.
  • Cool bath.
  • Apply moisturizer after bathing. Gently tap the area dry, but leave a little water on the skin. The moisturizer will help trap water in the skin.
  • Over-the-counter NSAIDs for any discomfort or swelling.
  • Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to help ease discomfort.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Avoid “-caine” products such as benzocaine.
  • Skin blistering signifies a second-degree burn. Leave the blister alone–it helps the healing process and protects the skin from infection. Seek medical attention immediately if the blisters cover a large area or you experience chills, a headache, or a fever.

With any specific questions about sun safety, please consult your primary care provider, dermatologist, or pharmacist.


The UFit Team