To keep skin protected, wear sunscreen every day when going outdoors.

woman at beach sunGetting outside and enjoying the bright sunshine can be a boost for your physical and mental health. Not only does a dose of sun lift your spirits but it also provides you with some much-needed vitamin D, an essential vitamin. But you also have to take precautions to protect your skin from the sun.

If you spend time outdoors, you may be wondering if there is any amount of time that it's safe to be out there without sun protection. Some people also wonder whether their skin can produce enough vitamin D if they're always wearing sunscreen. But there is no broad spectrum answer to the question of 'how long can you safely be in the sun?' because everybody's skin is different.

In very fair-skinned people and those who are sensitive to light, the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun may start becoming harmful in as little as 5 to 10 minutes. Those with darker-toned skin may tolerate more unprotected sun exposure. But since it's hard to determine exactly how strong the sun is on any given day (the sun's rays can damage your skin even on cloudy days) and how your skin will respond to repeated sun exposure over a lifetime, the safest way to spend time outside is to get in the habit of always wearing sunscreen.

But how is your skin supposed to produce vitamin D if it is protected from the sun by sunscreen? Although some studies have suggested that sunscreen blocks the production of vitamin D, much research has shown that people who use sunscreen every day can still maintain adequate vitamin D levels. One possible explanation for this is that some of the sun's UV rays still reach your skin even when you wear sunscreen. So no matter how vigilant you are about using sunscreen, your skin will still be exposed to some UVB rays, which is what triggers vitamin D production in the skin.

Since it's unknown how much sun exposure is safe for any particular person, and since you are exposed to the sun's UV rays just about every day of the year, no matter how sunny or warm it is, health experts suggest you get in the habit of applying sunscreen daily to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays.

Sunscreen recommendations include:

  • Wear sunscreen daily, even when it is cloudy outside or the temperatures are cool (the sun's rays still come through and can damage your skin).
  • Use a water-resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before you go outdoors.
  • Use sunscreen on all skin not covered by clothing, including your neck, ears and the tops of your feet, hands and head. It takes about 1 ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover a full adult body.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming, sweating or bathing.

Not only will wearing sunscreen protect your skin from possible skin damage that can lead to skin cancer, but it can also prevent other damage caused by the sun's UV rays, including premature aging, dark spots and wrinkles.

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Date Last Reviewed: March 15, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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