Skin Health and Sun Safety

The skin is the largest organ in the human body and with skin cancer being the most common type of cancer in the United States, it is important to learn how to protect the skin. The most common cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays which can come from the sun or artificial sources such as tanning beds. Ultraviolet rays can cause skin damage in as little as 15 minutes. Taking steps to protect the skin from UV rays can help decrease the risk of developing skin cancer and other sun damage.

Using Sunscreen

Even on cool, cloudy days, UV rays from the sun can damage the skin. Before going outside, you should apply sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. Most sunscreen products absorb, reflect, or scatter sunlight and have chemicals that interact with the skin to protect from ultraviolet rays. Not all sunscreen products have the same ingredients and some will be more effective than others.

Sunscreen products are given a sun protection factor (SPF) number that is determined by their effectiveness in blocking ultraviolet rays. Sunscreens with a higher SPF will provide more sun protection. Sunscreen can wear off so it is important to reapply when in the sun for long periods of time. Sunscreen products can also expire, so be sure to check the date before using. Sunscreens with a higher SPF should be used on children.


In addition to sunscreen, clothing can help protect skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Wearing long pants, and long sleeves can provide UV protection. Clothes that are made from tightly woven or knit fabric generally offer better protection. Darker colors tend to offer more sun protection than lighter colors. While it may not be practical to wear long pants and sleeves for a day at the beach, wearing a t-shirt or coverup along with sunscreen can provide additional protection. Hats with brims are also advised for protecting your face, ears, and neck.

Stay in the Shade

Staying in the shade under some sort of shelter such as a tree or umbrella can reduce the risk of sun damage. It is best to wear sunscreen even in the shade as shade will provide some relief from the sun but UV rays can still damage the skin.

Wear Sunglasses

Protecting your eyes is just as important as protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. Eye protection can reduce the risk of developing cataracts and can also protect the delicate skin around the eyes. When buying sunglasses, you should look for a pair that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Most sunglasses sold in the US, even less expensive pairs, generally offer protection from UVA and UVB rays.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. There are several different types of skin cancer with treatment options and prognosis varying for each. The different types of skin cancer include melanoma, basal and squamous cell skin cancers, merkel cell carcinoma, kaposi sarcoma, and lymphoma of the skin.

Additional Sun Safety Tips

  • Remember that the sun is strongest between the hours of 10:00am and 4:00pm.
  • Wear dark clothing made of tightly woven fabric.
  • Keep in mind that UV rays can bounce off of water, snow, sand, and concrete.
  • Avoid the use of tanning beds.
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat to protect the eyes and face when in the sun.
  • Keep children younger than six months out of the sun.
  • Regularly reapply sunscreen when spending long periods of time in the sun and after swimming, or swearing.
  • Stay in the shade when possible.

The skin plays many important roles in the human body from regulating body temperature to protecting us from the elements and its protection is vital to overall health. Learn more about skin cancer and protection from the sun.