To minimize the risk of sun damage, people can wear sunscreen, cover up exposed skin, and avoid the sun during the hottest time of day. The risks of excessive sun exposure include burns and heatstroke.

Many people enjoy spending time outdoors in the sun. However, it is important that people protect themselves from the sun’s UV radiation and avoid excessive heat, as both can have damaging health effects.

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Sunscreen can help protect against sunburn, premature skin aging, and skin cancer.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends choosing a sunscreen with the following:

  • an SPF of 30 or higher
  • broad-spectrum UVA and UVB radiation protection
  • water resistance

People can apply sunscreen around 15 minutes before heading outdoors to allow enough time for it to absorb into the skin. They should then reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours when outdoors and immediately after sweating or swimming.

When applying sunscreen, it is important to cover all exposed areas, including the lips and scalp.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that sunscreen is generally unsuitable for babies younger than 6 months.

Instead, people should try to keep young babies out of direct sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when UV rays are at their most intense.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends covering exposed skin to protect against the sun. This may include:

  • wearing clothing that offers good coverage, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts
  • wearing clothing comprising tightly woven fabric, which is more effective at protecting against UV rays
  • changing into dry clothes when necessary, as wet clothing offers less UV protection
  • wearing a wide-brimmed canvas hat that shades the face, ears, and back of the neck
  • wearing dark clothing, as this provides more protection than lighter colors
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses to protect the eyes and the delicate skin around the eyes from UV rays

In the continental United States, UV rays are typically at their most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daylight saving time or 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a daily UV forecast that outlines predicted UV levels according to city, state, and zip code.

The EPA recommends that all individuals protect themselves from the sun on days when the UV index number is 3 or above.

According to the CDC, staying in the shade on a sunny day can help reduce the risk of sun damage and skin cancer. Nonetheless, people should still wear sunscreen and protective clothing.

The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) notes that no shade structure can completely shield a person from indirect UV radiation.

UV radiation bounces off reflective surfaces, such as water, sand, and concrete, so people can still get sunburn if they sit in the shade without covering up and wearing sunscreen.

The SCF adds that certain shade structures may offer better sun protection. Factors to consider include:

  • Size: Larger shaded areas offer better sun protection compared to smaller areas. For example, a wraparound porch or large awning provides better protection than a small umbrella.
  • Density: A porch with a solid wood roof offers better sun protection than leafy tree branches since the latter can shift in the breeze.
  • Fabric: Fabric shade structures such as umbrellas or awnings should feature a product label showing an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 or higher.

Below are some risks associated with neglecting sun protection.


Sunburn is an acute inflammatory skin reaction that occurs with overexposure to UV rays. The severity of sunburn depends on the intensity and duration of UV exposure.

Other factors that can influence sunburn severity include:

Affected skin may be warm and painful to the touch. Symptoms typically develop within 3 to 5 hours of sun exposure and peak within 12 to 24 hours. They generally subside within 3 to 7 days.

Severe or “second-degree” sunburn may cause fluid-filled blisters. These should heal within 7 to 10 days. Individuals with fair skin may develop pale brown patches called solar lentigines, which can remain for some time after the initial symptoms.

Repeated sunburns increase a person’s risk of skin cancer and other types of skin damage.

Skin cancer

According to the EPA, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Unprotected exposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for the disease.

Melanomas are the most severe form of skin cancer. While they account for only 3% of skin cancers, the EPA states they are responsible for 75% of skin cancer-related deaths.

Non-melanoma skin cancers are less severe but still require treatment to prevent them from spreading. Examples include basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.

Skin damage

Exposure to UV radiation can cause premature skin aging.

The skin contains protein fibers called collagen and elastin. Collagen maintains the skin’s structure and strength, while elastin maintains the skin’s elasticity.

UV radiation breaks down the skin’s collagen and elastin fibers, which can result in the following:

Learn some methods to boost collagen levels.

Eye damage

According to the EPA, exposure to UV radiation can increase the risk of certain types of eye damage, such as:


Heatstroke is a severe and potentially life threatening condition in which the body can no longer regulate its temperature.

Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature rises to 106°F (41.1°C) or higher within 10 to 15 minutes, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.

Warm weather increases the risk of heatstroke. Symptoms to look out for include:

Without emergency treatment, heatstroke can cause permanent disability or even death.

Below are some tips on how to treat sunburn and heatstroke.

Tips for treating sunburn

The AAD provides treating sunburn by:

  • taking frequent cool baths or showers to ease the pain
  • gently patting the skin dry after showering or bathing
  • applying a moisturizer to slightly damp skin to help lock in moisture and ease dryness
  • drinking extra water to prevent dehydration since sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body
  • taking ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin (Disprin) to help reduce skin discoloration, swelling, and discomfort
  • avoiding popping any blisters, as this can increase the risk of infection
  • taking extra care to protect the skin as it heals

Tips for treating heatstroke

Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Anyone who encounters someone with heatstroke should phone 911 for emergency medical care and should stay with the person until help arrives.

In the meantime, people can use the following first aid tips for caring for someone with heatstroke:

  • move the affected person to a cool, shaded area
  • remove the person’s outer clothing
  • cool the person quickly using the following methods:
    • cold water or an ice bath, if possible
    • wetting the skin
    • soaking the person’s clothing in cool water
    • placing cold, wet cloths or ice on the person’s head, neck, armpits, or groin
    • circulating the air around the person to help speed up cooling

To protect themselves from the sun, people can wear high-SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen and cover exposed skin with suitable clothing.

Wherever possible, people should also aim to stay indoors or in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are at their most intense.

Some risks relating to neglecting sun protection include sunburn, premature skin aging, and skin cancer. Heatstroke is also a significant risk factor, and this condition can be fatal without emergency medical treatment.