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JAMA Dermatology Patient Page
March 2018

Sun Safety

JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(3):380. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.5256

Sun safety is complicated by the important health benefits of outdoor activity and exercise.

Overexposure to the sun and UV light is associated with painful sunburn in people with light skin and can cause irritation or excess skin darkening in those with medium or darker skin. Many episodes of overexposure may increase the risk of skin cancer and lead to early aging of the skin. People may choose safe sun practices:

  • Do outdoor activities before 10 am or after 2 pm (or 4 pm, depending on location) to avoid strong sun.

  • When outdoors in strong sun, seek deep shade; wear protective clothing and sunscreen on uncovered skin.

  • If the UV index, a measure of sun strength, is less than 3, then sun protection is not needed.

Options for Sun Protection

  • Shade: Find a tree, umbrella, or shelter under an awning.

  • Clothing: UV-protective gear, such as tightly woven clothing that you cannot see your hand through is best. The more skin coverage the better: long-sleeved shirts and long pants are best. If this is not possible, then wear a shirt that covers the shoulders and shorts with sunscreen on exposed skin.

  • Hat: A hat that optimally protects from the sun has a 4-inch brim all the way around. Test the shade given by your hat by tilting your head to see how much of your cheeks get into the sun. Straw hats and baseball caps with the hole in the back do not give enough protection to bald heads—but are better than nothing.

  • Sunglasses: They should block both UV-A and UV-B (label should say “100% UV protection” or “UV400”) to protect the delicate skin around the eyes and protect the eyes against cataracts.

  • Sunscreen: Apply a generous layer of broad-spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor 30 before going outside. If you use 2 coats, you miss fewer areas. Do one area of the body, let it dry, and then go back and apply another coat. After applying sunscreen, wash your hands to keep from getting it in your eyes. Sunscreen wears off, especially when toweling after swimming or sweating, and should be reapplied. Put it on again after 80 minutes of sweating or being in the water. Reapply every 2 hours if you are not wet.

When and Where to Use Sun Protection

  • Even when it is cloudy; clouds and haze do not block sunlight.

  • Near water, snow, ice, and sand; UV is reflected and comes under the hat or umbrella to the skin.

  • Protect children and teach them safe sun habits.

About 15 minutes of sun in the middle of the day in summer a few times a week will be enough for the body’s vitamin D needs. Diets with egg yolks, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and fortified milk and cereal can satisfy your vitamin D needs without sun exposure, or you can take supplements of 200 IUs per day up to age 50, 400 IUs to age 70, and 600 IUs over 70.

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For More Information

Section Editor: Misha Rosenbach, MD
The JAMA Dermatology Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Dermatology. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA Dermatology suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call (312) 464-0776.
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Article Information

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Disclaimer: Dr Robinson is Editor of JAMA Dermatology but was not involved in the editorial evaluation or editorial decision to accept this work for publication.