Skip to main content

Are You Sun Safe?


The sun is a wonderful thing. Without it the earth would be a frozen ball of rock covered in ice and none of us would be alive. However, it also is really bad for our skin. That giant ball of heated gas is harsh on our thin protective layers. Exposure can cause sunburn, sun damage, and lead to skin cancer. Despite this many of us aren't taking proper steps to enjoy the sun's benefits - yet still protect ourselves.

"Most people are going out with little to no sun protection," said Adam Tinklepaugh, MD, a dermatologist with University of Utah Health. "It isn't something you only need to do when you are heading for a day of the pool, but any time you are going to be out in the sun - whether you are exercising, working, or attending an event."

The best way to protect yourself from the sun is to stay out of it - especially when it is at its most intense during the middle of the day. If you have to be out you should be wearing sun protective clothing like shirts and hats that keep the sun from hitting your skin. "To quote Dr. Glen Bowen, sun protective clothing is like a seatbelt and sunblock is like an airbag," said Tinklepaugh. "If you can't wear sun protective clothing, it is important to cover your exposed skin with sunscreen and that includes areas we often don't think about like the tops of our ears and our hands and feet."

Sunscreen sprays and lotions are popular choices for sun protection. Many errors can be made when using them though, which can lead to bad burns. You need be sure you are using the proper amount and reapplying every two hours. "Proper sunscreen use is two milligrams for every square centimeter of exposed skin," said Tinklepaugh. "That's roughly almost the same as using one ounce of sun screen to cover the body of an entire adult."

When picking a lotion or spray it is important to pick one that protects against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin causing aging, while UVB are shorter wave rays that cause sunburns. You don't want to be exposed to either. If you can, use a sunblock instead of a sunscreen. "Sunblock is the best overall protector because it contains a physical sun blocker like zinc or titanium," said Tinklepaugh. "Sunscreen usually only contains compounds that absorb the sun's rays."

You also need pay attention to the sun protection level (SPF) of your sunscreen and to know what SPF means. "SPF is a general scale for how much of the sun's rays will reach a person's skin when applied. Higher SPF allows fewer of the sun's rays to reach our skin," said Tinklepaugh. "It is important to remember that increasing SPF number doesn't mean that it will last longer and that we should always reapply every two hours or less."

Sun protection is not one size fits all. Know how sensitive your skin is to the sun when picking a protection method. You may be fair skinned, or you may be on medications or have a medical condition that makes your skin more likely to burn. "Sun sensitive people often sunburn quickly or severely," said Tinklepaugh. "It is always best to speak with your dermatologist to determine your sun sensitivity risk."