Spending time outdoors can have great benefits for your health, but you also have to be careful and protect your skin from the sun.
Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause different types of skin cancer. UV rays are an invisible kind of radiation that come naturally from the sun. Tanning beds and sun lamps also emit UV rays, and this exposure can damage your skin cells. (1)
It’s important to know that UV rays are always around, not just during the hot summer months.
If I’m in the shade, am I covered?
The short answer is no.
Hiding out in the shade doesn’t always do the trick because you get indirect exposure as UV rays bounce off surfaces like water, sand and concrete. (2) The sun is also always moving, which allows the rays to hit you from different angles.
A number of other factors can determine how effective shade will be in protecting you from the sun. They are:
- Size of the structure providing shade
- Material/fabric being used
- Density of shade protection
- Proximity to other shade structures or buildings
- Side protection
Each of these factors are discussed in detail by SkinCancer.org.
Should I wear sunscreen? How does it work?
The CDC recommends using sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of 15 or higher. Sunscreen should be applied an all skin that is directly exposed to the sun.
SPF in sunscreen stands for Sun Protection Factor. The SPF number rates how well the product blocks UV rays. The higher the SPF number the higher the level of protection from the sun.
Sunscreen doesn’t last all day. It will wear off and you need to reapply as frequently as every two hours, especially if you are swimming or sweating.
Lastly, make sure to check your sunscreen’s expiration date. That tube could have been sitting under your bathroom sink — or in cabinet in your garage — for a few years. Sunscreen will go bad eventually, and that process speeds up if it is left somewhere exposed to hot temperatures.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t use sunscreen?
Use of sunscreen is not recommended for children who are six months old and younger. Why? Because infants have a greater risk of side effects, like rash, when using sunscreen. (3)
Instead, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends keeping infants out of direct sunlight — especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when UV rays are most intense — and using other measures to keep children in the shade when you are outside.
Other than shade and sunscreen, what are protective measures I can take?
Your wardrobe is key!
Wear clothing that helps protect your skin from the sun. If long sleeves and pants are not practical because of the weather, utilize a cover-up or short sleeve t-shirt because some protection is better than none.
Some clothing manufacturers make clothing that is designed to offer UV protection, so that is an option.
Hats are also important. A normal baseball cap will help, but it’s not the best choice because your neck is still exposed. A “bucket” style hat that has a brim all the way around offers better protection.
Don’t forget your shades! Sunglasses offer important protection for your eyes.
Do you have questions you’d like to ask a healthcare provider?
A primary care provider can meet with you and make an appropriate referral