Understand How to Protect Yourself from UV Ray Exposure and Reduce Sunburn

July 13, 2022 Providence Cancer Team


In this article:

  • July is UV Safety Awareness Month — a month dedicated to increasing our understanding of the dangers of the sun’s UV rays and the need to protect your skin.

  • Protecting your skin from harmful rays is especially important during the summer.

  • Using sunscreen correctly whenever you’re outside is key to blocking harmful UV rays.

  • You can get a sunburn in several surprising ways. Learn what to watch out for and how to avoid skin damage.

  • Sunburns during childhood increase the risk for skin cancer in the future. Know how to protect your children from the sun.

It’s summertime, and the outdoors is calling your name. Spending time outside offers several benefits, whether you’re relaxing at the lake or playing a game of frisbee golf. Being outside can relieve stress, give you fresh air for exercise, and even boost your body’s vitamin D levels, a nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium to build strong bones.

But being outside also exposes you to the most common cause of skin cancer — the sun’s UV rays. This ionizing radiation can seep deep into your skin, damaging your DNA and increasing your skin cancer risk. Every year, roughly 5.5 million Americans are diagnosed with either melanoma (the most severe skin cancer) or basal and squamous cell skin cancer (the most common forms). Consequently, during UV Safety Awareness Month this July, we’re sharing some resources and information you can use to protect your skin — especially during the summer when you’re outdoors the most.

The more you know about ways to protect your skin, the more you can limit your skin cancer risk or benefit from less-invasive treatment options. Early detection is key because it can bump your five-year skin cancer survival rate to 99%.

Preventing Skin Cancer

Most of your exposure to the sun occurs before age 25, so it’s critical to develop good skin protection habits when you’re younger. The World Health Organization recommends you get between five-to-15 minutes of sun exposure two-to-three times a week. When you do, be sure to wear sunscreen and sun-protective clothing and stay in the shade as much as possible. Most importantly, avoid tanning beds. They use more UV radiation, and the rays penetrate even deeper into your skin. In fact, the number of melanoma cases diagnosed in women in their 40s who have a history of tanning bed use is growing.

When it comes to looking for signs of skin cancer, doctors recommend you start doing skin checks as early as possible. Fortunately, suspicious moles share specific characteristics that can alert you when to see your doctor.

Learn more about preventing skin cancer:

Skin Cancer Prevention: Q&A: An Ounce of Prevention

Environmental Health Features | UV Radiation 

Indoor Tanning 101: Do You Know the Risks? 

What are the symptoms of Skin Cancer 

Protecting your skin during summer

It’s possible to get sunburn any time of year. However, the harsh UV rays of the summer sun put you at greater risk. Knowing the UV index of your area shows you your risk of overexposure. There are a few easy steps that can minimize your risks, however. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and apply it frequently. Also, look for clothing that can shield your skin, including:

  • Long-sleeved shirts and long pants made of synthetic materials
  • Wide-brimmed hats to shade your face, ears, and back
  • Sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce cataract risk

Learn more about how to protect your skin:

Ways to protect your skin as summer heats up

EPA | UV Index 

Skin Cancer | Sun Safety 

Selecting and using sunscreen correctly

Using sunscreen to block UV rays should be part of your daily routine year-round, but it is most important during the summer. There are two different types of sunblock available: mineral-based and chemical-based. But the best kind of sunscreen is the one you’ll use every day. To maximize the sun protection you get, follow these steps:

  • Put sunscreen on before going outside (two tablespoons is enough to cover your body)
  • Reapply every two hours if you’re sweating or in water
  • Pay attention to easily missed areas, including your back, feet, hands, and scalp
  • Keep sunscreen handy in your car or bag

UV exposure from sunlight reflecting off the water or sand can also damage your eyes, leading to possible eye problems. So, be sure you wear sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection.

Learn more about correctly using sunscreen:

Do you know how to protect your skin from the summer sun?

10 Ways to Boost Your Sunscreen 

Skin Care Prevention 

Tips to Stay Safe in the Sun: From Sunscreen to Sunglasses 

Surprising ways to get sunburned

Not using sunscreen when you’re spending hours in the sun is a sure-fire way to get a sunburn. But it isn’t the only way it can happen. You may be surprised to know you’re at risk of getting a sunburn in the car. In fact, according to Kelly Paulson, M.D., a medical oncologist at Swedish Cancer Institute Medical Oncology-Edmonds, more skin cancers in the United States occur on the left side of the body because you’re exposed to more sun while driving. It’s also possible to get sunburned while in the shade and even while wearing sunscreen.

Learn more about the unexpected ways you can get sunburned:

3 surprising ways to get sunburned

A Surprising Danger in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles 

Winter Sun Safety: What to Know About Protecting Yourself During Colder Months 

Protecting your kids from sunburn

Preventing sunburn during childhood is an important way to avoid sun damage and skin cancer later in life. If you’re taking a child younger than six months outside, dress them in light-weight clothing that covers their skin and keep them in the shade. Kids older than six months need head-to-toe coverage when they’re out in the sun. Help your child apply sunscreen and set a good example by using it yourself. You can also encourage your kids to avoid sun exposure at school by playing in the shade, wearing sunglasses and hats, and putting on sunscreen before recess.

Learn more about how to give your kids head-to-toe protection from the sun.

Sun Protection for Kids from Head to Toe (Infographic)

Sun Safe Babies 

Skin Cancer | Sun Safety 

How to Talk to Your Teen About Tanning 


Find a doctor

The doctors and dermatologists at Providence can help you find ways to protect you and your family from harmful UV rays this summer. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a primary care doctor, dermatologist, or oncologist, you can use our provider directory.

Download the Providence App

We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records, and more. Learn more and download the app.

Related resources

Don’t wait until summer to think about skin cancer

Choosing the best sunscreen for your child

How to soothe sun-damaged skin

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

The Providence Cancer Team is committed to bringing you the most up-to-date insights about treatments, prevention, care and support available. We know cancer diagnoses strain you both mentally and physically, and we hope to provide a small piece of hope to you or your loved ones who are fighting the cancer battle with useful and clinically-backed advice.

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