Overview of Sun Safety

Life on earth could not exist without the warmth and light provided by the sun. Although the sun provides many benefits, it also can cause a number of harmful effects.

One beneficial aspect of sun exposure is that it helps the human body produce vitamin D, which is an important nutrient that promotes healthy bone development and a strong immune system. Generally, a total of 10–15 minutes of sun exposure twice each week (without sunscreen) is enough for adequate vitamin D production.

Overexposure to the sun can be harmful. Invisible rays, called ultraviolet or UV rays, produced by the sun can damage the skin and the eyes. Two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB, cause skin damage.

The sun's ultraviolet rays are stronger at higher altitudes and in places where the climate is warm year round. UV rays are strongest during the summer, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. They are present and can cause sunburn and skin damage even on cloudy days and can reflect off of sand, water, snow, and cement. Tanning lamps and tanning salon beds also emit harmful UV rays.

Sun exposure is cumulative, meaning that the effects of the sun add up over time. Lifetime exposure to the sun increases skin damage and results in a higher risk for skin cancer. Most lifetime sun exposure occurs during childhood.

Sun exposure results in both short-term and long-term effects. The most common short-term effects of exposure to the sun are suntan, sunburn, and increased freckles and other skin discolorations. Long-term effects of sun exposure include wrinkles, premature skin aging, and several different types of skin cancer.

It is important to protect yourself and your children from exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Sun protection during childhood and adolescence is one of the best ways to reduce the risk for developing skin cancer later in life.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015