Posted in:

Essential Tips for Healthy Skin Protection in the Summer Sun

© by Shutterstock

As temperatures rise and days grow longer, people are drawn outdoors to enjoy the sun’s warmth and light. However, the sun’s rays can pose significant risks to skin health, including sunburn, premature aging, and an increased chance of developing skin cancer. Protecting oneself from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation becomes critical during summer months when sun exposure is more substantial. It’s essential to understand the best practices for safe sun exposure to maintain skin health and reduce risks of UV-related harm.

Sun safety is not just about using sunscreen; it encompasses a range of strategies such as seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and being aware of the sun’s intensity during peak hours. Educating oneself about the Sun Protection Factor (SPF), the proper application of sunscreen, and the use of other protective measures can make time spent outdoors both enjoyable and safe. Awareness of the sun’s potential for harm, coupled with proactive protective measures, creates a balanced approach to summer sun exposure.

Understanding UV Radiation

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic energy emitted by the sun. It is important to understand its types and the effects it can have on the skin to practice effective sun safety.

Types of UV Rays

UV radiation can be classified into three types based on wavelength: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • UVA: These rays have the longest wavelengths and can penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB.
  • UVB: These have shorter wavelengths and are mainly responsible for causing sunburn.
  • UVC: These have the shortest wavelengths and are absorbed by the Earth’s ozone layer, thus typically do not reach the skin.

Sunscreen Essentials

Choosing the right sunscreen and using it correctly is crucial for effective protection against UV rays.

SPF Ratings Explained

SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, measures a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. An SPF 30 sunscreen, for instance, theoretically allows a person to spend 30 times longer in the sun before getting burned, compared to unprotected skin. However, high SPF numbers are not a guarantee of all-day protection and reapplication is necessary.

Application Guidelines

Proper application of sunscreen is essential for optimal protection. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen at least 15-30 minutes before sun exposure to allow it to bind to the skin. Use about 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) to cover the entire body. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating.

Physical vs Chemical Sunscreens

There are two main types of sunscreens: physical and chemical. Selecting between physical and chemical options depends on one’s skin type, preferences, and sensitivities.

  • Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin.
  • Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation through their chemical filters, converting the energy into heat, and dissipating it from the skin.

Protective Clothing and Accessories

In summer sun safety, the right clothing and accessories are crucial for protection against harmful UV rays. They provide the first line of defense.


When selecting clothing for sun protection, long-sleeved shirts and long pants made of tightly woven fabric offer the best barrier against the sun’s UV rays. Clothing labeled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) indicates the level of UV protection the fabric provides; a UPF rating of 50 means that only 1/50th of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate the material.

  • Good: UPF 25-39 (blocking 96-97.4% of UV rays)
  • Better: UPF 40-49 (blocking 97.5-98% of UV rays)
  • Best: UPF 50+ (blocking over 98% of UV rays)


A hat with a wide brim (at least 3 inches) offers the necessary shade to protect the face, neck, and ears. Using lifeguard bucket hats are perfect as they are made of materials with a tight weave that prevent UV rays from reaching the skin. They should cover the head completely and be designed to stay firm on windy days.

Characteristics of an effective sun-protective hat:

  • Brim Width: 3 inches or wider
  • Material: Canvas or another tightly woven fabric
  • Fit: Snug but comfortable to ensure it stays in place

UV Protective Gear

Specialized UV protective gear includes items such as sunglasses and sun gloves. Sunglasses should block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays and have a wraparound design to protect from the side. Sun gloves protect the hands, a commonly overlooked area, without inhibiting movement or dexterity. 

Important features of sunglasses are the UV Rating needs to be 99-100% UVA/UVB protection and that the fit is comfortable, close-fitting with side-shields.

Features of sun gloves include having a UPF Rating with the higher the better, preferably UPF 50+.  The material needs to be breathable, stretchable fabric for comfort and the design should have fingerless options available for better grip

Behavioral Practices for Safety

Adopting specific behaviors is crucial for reducing the risks associated with summer sun exposure. Implementing strategic timing, seeking shade, and managing hydration can significantly enhance sun safety.

Sun Exposure Timing

It is recommended to avoid direct sun exposure between 10 AM and 4 PM when UV rays are strongest. If outdoor activities are planned, they should be scheduled for early morning or later in the afternoon.

Shade Utilization

Shade is an effective barrier against UV radiation. Utilizing shade, particularly during peak sunlight hours, can reduce UV exposure. Shade solutions include trees, umbrellas, tents, built shade structures.

Hydration and Heat Stress Prevention

Staying hydrated is essential in preventing heat stress and maintaining overall health during hot weather conditions. Hydration tips include drinking water regularly, even if not thirsty and avoiding alcoholic and caffeinated beverages as they can lead to dehydration.

Special Considerations

When discussing sun safety, it’s important to recognize that certain groups and conditions require special attention to protect the skin from harmful UV rays.

Children and Sun Safety

Children’s skin is more sensitive than adult skin, thus it’s vital to apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30. They should wear hats with wide brims and UV-blocking sunglasses. Outdoor playtime should be limited during peak sun intensity hours, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Sun Safety for Sensitive Skin Types

Individuals with sensitive skin should opt for sunscreens that are free of fragrances and parabens and labeled as hypoallergenic. It’s important to perform a patch test before applying any new product extensively. They should also wear tightly woven fabrics to physically block UV rays.

Medication and Sun Sensitivity

Certain medications can increase sun sensitivity, leading to a higher risk of sunburn or skin reactions. Individuals on these medications should seek shade, wear protective clothing, and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF. They must consult healthcare providers regarding sun safety specific to their medications. These medications include, but are not limited to:

  • Antibiotics: such as tetracyclines and sulfonamides.
  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Diuretics: like furosemide or hydrochlorothiazide.