Stay Sun Safe: Essential Facts and Tips for Protection This Summer

Understanding UV Radiation and Its Impact on Your Health

Did you know that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70? While most people associate sunburn with a day at the beach, the dangers of sun exposure go far beyond a temporary inconvenience. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause lasting damage to your skin, eyes, and immune system, leading to serious health consequences.

Sun safety is crucial for everyone, regardless of age, skin tone, or location. Even on cloudy days, UV rays can penetrate the clouds and damage your skin. Let’s examine the science behind UV radiation, the dangers of sun exposure, and provide actionable tips to keep yourself safe in the sun.

What is UV Radiation?

The sun emits various types of radiation, including visible light, heat, and invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is further categorized into three types:

  • UVA rays: These rays penetrate deep into the skin’s dermis, contributing to premature skin aging, wrinkles, and sunspots.
  • UVB rays: These rays are responsible for sunburns and play a significant role in the development of skin cancer.
  • UVC rays: Fortunately, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs most UVC rays before they reach the surface.

Sunshine and Health: The Bright Side of Sun Exposure

While excessive sun exposure is detrimental, our bodies do require moderate sun exposure for the production of vitamin D, which is essential for bone health, immune function, and cell growth. However, the recommended daily dose of vitamin D can be obtained through just 10-15 minutes of midday sun exposure on your face and arms (without sunscreen) most days of the week.

The Dark Side of Sun Exposure: Potential Risks

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with over 5 million cases diagnosed annually. The primary culprit behind skin cancer is UV radiation from the sun. There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Melanoma: This is the deadliest form of skin cancer, but it’s also the most treatable when detected early. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body and can appear as an asymmetrical mole with irregular borders and changing colors.
  • Basal cell carcinoma: This is the most common type of skin cancer, but it is also the slowest-growing and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of skin cancer is more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma but less common.

According to the American Cancer Society, people with fair skin, a history of sunburn, a family history of skin cancer, and those who use tanning beds are at higher risk for developing skin cancer.

Premature Skin Aging

The sun’s UV rays damage the skin’s collagen and elastin fibers, leading to wrinkles, fine lines, loss of elasticity, and a leathery appearance. Sun exposure also contributes to sunspots, age spots, and uneven skin tone. While aging is inevitable, sun protection can significantly slow down the visible signs of aging and keep your skin looking youthful for longer.

Eye Damage

Ultraviolet radiation can damage the eyes, leading to several eye conditions. Here are some of the concerns:

  • Cataracts: This is a clouding of the lens of the eye that can cause blurry vision and difficulty seeing at night.
  • Macular degeneration: This age-related condition affects the macula, the part of the eye responsible for central vision. Sun exposure is a significant risk factor for macular degeneration, which can lead to permanent vision loss.
  • Pterygium: Also known as surfer’s eye, this is a non-cancerous growth of the conjunctiva (the white part of the eye) that can interfere with vision.

Wearing sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays is essential for protecting your eyes from sun damage.

Immune System Suppression

Excessive sun exposure can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections from viruses, bacteria, and fungi. This is because UV radiation can suppress the activity of immune system cells, hindering their ability to fight off pathogens.

Healthy Summer Sun: Protecting Yourself from UV Rays

Sun safety is a multi-pronged approach that involves minimizing sun exposure and using protective measures when you are outdoors. Here are some key tips to keep yourself safe in the sun:

Seek Shade

The simplest and most effective way to avoid sun damage is to seek shade, especially during peak sun hours (typically between 10 am and 4 pm). This could involve:

  • Relaxing under an umbrella or a beach canopy.
  • Spending time in the shade of trees or structures.
  • Adjusting your schedule to avoid being outdoors during peak sun hours when possible.

Sun Protective Clothing

Wearing sun-protective clothing is an excellent way to shield your skin from UV rays. Look for clothes made with tightly woven fabrics that have a high Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating. A UPF rating of 50+ indicates that the fabric blocks at least 98% of UVA and UVB rays. Here are some tips for choosing sun-protective clothing:

  • Opt for long sleeves, pants, and wide-brimmed hats for maximum coverage.
  • Look for lightweight, breathable fabrics that are comfortable to wear in warm weather.
  • Consider special sun-protective clothing lines designed for outdoor activities.


Sunscreen is a crucial line of defense against UV radiation. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays. SPF (Sun Protection Factor) indicates the level of protection against UVB rays. An SPF of 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks about 98%.
  • Apply sunscreen generously and evenly to all exposed skin Don’t forget areas like your ears, neck, lips, tops of your feet, and the backs of your hands.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more often if you are sweating or swimming Sunscreen can wear off, so reapplication is crucial for maintaining protection.
  • Use water-resistant sunscreen if you will be swimming or sweating Look for sunscreens labeled “water-resistant” for 40 minutes or 80 minutes, depending on your activity level.

Here are some additional tips for sunscreen use:

  • Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors to allow it time to absorb into your skin.
  • Don’t rely solely on sunscreen for sun protection. Combine it with other sun safety measures like seeking shade and wearing sun-protective clothing.
  • Be mindful of sunscreen expiration dates and replace expired products with new ones.


Protecting your eyes from UV radiation is just as important as protecting your skin. Choose sunglasses that:

  • Block UVA and UVB rays. Look for sunglasses that label themselves as offering 100% UV protection.
  • Have large lenses to provide maximum coverage for your eyes and the delicate skin around them.
  • Fit snugly and comfortably to prevent UV rays from sneaking in from the sides or top of the frames.

Sun Safety for Children

Children’s skin is even more sensitive to sun damage than adults. Here are some essential sun safety tips for children:

  • Keep babies younger than six months out of direct sunlight.
  • Dress children in sun-protective clothing with a UPF rating of 50+.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on all exposed skin after applying a water-resistant option for swimming.
  • Encourage children to wear wide-brimmed hats that provide shade for their face, neck, and ears.
  • Seek shade, especially during peak sun hours, and encourage breaks from outdoor play.

Activity-Specific Sun Safety Tips

Sun safety practices may vary slightly depending on the specific activity. Here are some additional considerations:

  • Swimming Choose a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and reapply frequently, especially after swimming or toweling off.
  • Hiking and Camping Seek shade whenever possible and wear sun-protective clothing with long sleeves and pants. Consider using a sun hat with a neck flap for added protection.
  • Playing Sports Choose breathable sun-protective clothing and reapply sunscreen frequently, especially if sweating heavily.
  • Spending Time at the Beach Seek shade under umbrellas or beach canopies, and reapply sunscreen regularly. Wear sunglasses and wide-brim hats.

Embracing sun safety is an essential step toward maintaining your overall health and well-being. By understanding the impact of UV radiation and adopting protective measures like seeking shade, wearing sun-protective clothing, and using sunscreen, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with sun exposure. Remember, taking these precautions not only helps prevent skin cancer and premature aging but also safeguards your eyes and immune system. Prioritizing sun safety ensures that you can enjoy the outdoors while keeping your skin and health protected for years to come.


Think makes it easy to receive both preventative care and treatment for your skin and eyes, especially if affected by sun exposure. From blistered sunburns to cataracts, our wide range of primary care providers and specialists are here for you on sunny and cloudy days and everything in between.  
Our walk-in clinic treats anyone, even those who are not a current think patient or do not have a primary care provider. To learn more about our wide-ranging healthcare services, visit our Services page online and choose your own think medical professionals by visiting our Meet Your Doctor page.

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