Sun Safety

How Can I Be Safe in the Sun?

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light—both from the sun and indoor tanning devices, such as tanning beds and sunlamps —is the primary risk factor for developing skin cancer. Indeed, the vast majority of the five million-plus skin cancer cases in the U.S. are caused by UV exposure. Both cumulative sun exposure and intermittent, intense sunburns are linked to the development of skin cancer. Practicing sun safety is vital to reducing your risk of skin cancer.

How To Practice Sun Safety

Avoid the midday sun. The sun’s UV rays are the strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. As much as possible, avoid exposure during these hours. You can also protect your skin by seeking shade under trees and umbrellas.

Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher on exposed areas can significantly reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. Sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30 will block at least 97% of the sun’s UVB rays. Higher numbers block slightly more, but none block 100%. Broad spectrum means the sunscreen protects you from both UVA and UVB rays, which contribute to skin cancer development. Check the sunscreen’s expiration date. Sunscreen without an expiration date listed has a shelf life of no more than three years and less if exposed to excessive heat or direct sun. Your sunscreen may be too old to be effective if it changes color from white to yellow, changes consistency, or starts to separate.

Apply sunscreen generously. Most people only apply about half of the recommended amount of sunscreen, which means that the sun protection will not be as robust as advertised. One ounce—about the amount in a shot glass—is required to cover your whole body. And remember: Chemical sunscreens need to be applied about 15 minutes before going in the sun so they can be absorbed into the skin.

Reapply sunscreen often. Many sunscreens lose their efficacy after two hours. And all sunscreens should be reapplied after swimming, sweating, or towel-drying.

Get full coverage. Don’t forget to put sunscreen on your ears, the back of your neck, and the tops of your feet.

Wear sunscreen every day. UV rays can penetrate car windows and clouds, so wear sunscreen daily.

Wear protective clothing. Your clothes can provide excellent protection from the sun. Darker-colored long sleeves and pants can shield your skin from the sun’s rays. Clothing with a UPF rating, preferably 30+, is even better. While SPF stands for sun protection factor and measures how long your sunscreen will protect you from ultraviolet rays, UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor and indicates how much of the sun’s UV rays are absorbed by the fabric instead of your skin. A UPF rating of 50 means that only 2% (1/50th) of UV rays can penetrate the fabric. Note: Many fabrics have special washing instructions to maintain their UPF, so follow these instructions to ensure your garments continue to offer their full protective value.

Wear lip balm with SPF. Protect your lips, which are not immune to skin cancer, with a lip balm with SPF.

Wear UV-blocking sunglasses. Look for sunglasses labeled “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “Meets ANSI UV requirements,” meaning they block 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Not only can UV rays raise your risk for ocular melanoma, but UV rays can also contribute to the formation of cataracts, which can affect vision later in life.

Wear a hat. Wide-brimmed hats—those that are two to three inches all the way around—protect your head, neck, and face. If you choose a baseball hat, put sunscreen on your ears and neck.

Protect your baby. Keep babies in the shade. If there’s no natural shade, create your own with an umbrella, pop-up tent, or the stroller’s canopy. Dress them in sun-protective clothing. Ensure your baby wears a hat and clothing that covers and protects sensitive skin at all times. Babies six months and older can wear sunscreen, but it’s always better to keep them out of the sun and protected with clothing if possible.

Don’t forget your older kids. As you protect your skin with the guidelines above, ensure you protect theirs, too. Model the sun safety behaviors above for them while they are young, so the behaviors become routine for them. When your child is school-aged, make sure s/he has access to sunscreen and is using it during outdoor time at school. Sunscreen is labeled as an over-the-counter drug by the FDA, and many schools require specific authorizations for students to be provided or allowed to use such medications. Know the regulations in your state and the policies of your child’s school.

The Scoop on Sunscreens

Types of Sunscreens


UV Light They Protect Against

Physical Blockers (aka inorganic/mineral sunscreens)
  • Reflect or scatter UV light like a shield
  • Are not absorbed
  • Work immediately upon application
  • Contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide
Both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum)
Chemical Absorbers
(aka organic sunscreens)
  • Absorb UV light like a sponge
  • Transform UV light into a nonharmful wavelength (infrared)
  • Take time to absorb into the skin
  • Contain a variety of chemical agents such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate
Depends: UVA, UVB, or both (broad spectrum)