Protect Your Skin: How to Avoid Sun Exposure
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Protect Your Skin: How to Avoid Sun Exposure

Although you may feel healthier with a bit of a tan.... your skin sure doesn't! The sunlight that warms our bones and makes flowers grow contains UV radiation. Too much UV radiation can damage the skin.

Here's Why:

Exposure to UV (ultraviolet) 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. Check your skin regularly for any changes in the appearance of moles or freckles.

Here's How:

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

  • Always wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Use a "broad spectrum sunscreen"—this type absorbs at least 85% of the UVA and UVB rays of the sun.
  • Apply sunscreen to all exposed areas approximately 20 minutes before sun exposure. Use the amounts recommended by the manufacturer. Don't forget the back of the neck, rims of the ears, and tops of the feet. Reapply after swimming and every couple of hours.
  • Try to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when the sun's rays are most damaging.
  • Wear a wide-brim hat, sunglasses, and other protective clothing. Special SPF clothing is becoming widely available.
  • Don't deliberately sunbathe.
  • Stay away from artificial tanning devices, such as tanning booths or tanning lamps.

The UV Index

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

  • 0 to 2—Minimal danger from the sun's UV rays for the average person.
  • 3 to 4—Low risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. However, fair-skinned people might burn in less than 20 minutes.
  • 5 to 6—Moderate risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Fair-skinned people might burn in less than 15 minutes.
  • 7 to 9—High risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Fair-skinned people might burn in less than 10 minutes.
  • 10 and higher—Very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Fair-skinned people might burn in less than 5 minutes.

Is Sunscreen Safe?

Studies show that, contrary to some earlier worries, sunscreens do not cause skin cancers. Instead, it is likely that sunscreens effectively prevent many of the harms that come from UV exposure: including cancer.


American Academy of Dermatology

The Skin Cancer Foundation


Canadian Dermatology Association

Canadian Cancer Society


American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at:

Dennis LK, et al. Sunscreen use and the risk for melanoma: a quantitative review. Ann Intern Med. 2003; 139(12): 966-78.

The Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at:

United States Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at:

Last reviewed May 2008 by Ross Zeltser, MD, FAAD

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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