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Ohio State University Extension


Keeping Sun Safe

Family and Consumer Sciences
Pat Brinkman, Assistant Professor, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator

Avoiding overexposure to ultraviolet light (UV) will prevent damage to your skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer. Daily sunscreen use and following these recommended practices will reduce your exposure.


girl applying sunscreen to shoulderSelect a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least a 30 to 50 SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating for best protection. Sunscreens contain one or more protective chemicals that absorb and/or scatter ultraviolet rays. As such, check the expiration dates on bottles of sunscreen to ensure the effectiveness of the products.

Sunscreens are available in many forms including lotions, creams, gels, sprays, ointments and wax sticks. Choose the form of sunscreen you will use and apply every day you will be in the sun. If using a spray sunscreen, avoid breathing in the spray. Besides sunscreen, use a lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher to protect your lips from sunburn.

Sunscreen should be applied 20 to 30 minutes before going out into the sun to allow time for the sunscreen to start working. Apply liberally using at least three tablespoons or more on most adults. Reapply every 2 hours—and more often if swimming or perspiring heavily—to provide maximum effectiveness. Limit your sun exposure between the hours of 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, trying to stay in the shade when you need to be out during those hours. 

Use extra caution when around water, sand, snow, ice and concrete, as they can reflect sunrays. 

Sunscreen should not be applied to babies under six months old. Babies under six months old should avoid exposure to the sun. Keep them in shaded areas and out of the sun as much as possible.

Clothing for Sun Protection

girl wearing sun-safe hat and sunglassesClothing helps provide protection from ultraviolet light. Wearing a long-sleeved top and long pants or a long skirt provides some protection. Clothing made from either tightly woven fabric such as denim or closely knitted fabric in dark colors provides more protection. Synthetic and semisynthetic fibers such as polyester and rayon offer more protection than cotton. Lightweight knit fabrics such as cotton T-shirts provide little protection (SPF rating of 4.8, if white). Choose to wear middle to dark colors such as red, medium-green or blue.

Several companies sell clothing made of sunlight- or UV-resistant fabric. Lightweight and available in various colors, these fabrics can provide up to 50+ UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). The higher the UPF, the more protection from UV rays. Garments can lose their sun-protective effectiveness over time. Follow label instructions for care of the garments to ensure continued UPF protection.

If a child will be exposed to long periods of sunlight, consider covering him or her in long-sleeved and pant swimsuits made from sun-protective fabric. Items can be purchased through companies on the Internet and in some sporting goods stores.

Sun protection can be washed into clothing through the use of products such as Sun Guard™ and optic brighteners in some laundry detergents. Check labels and follow directions to obtain the best protection.


Choose sunglasses that block 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation to prevent sun damage to your eyes. Labels on sunglasses should include 99 percent to 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. The color or darkness of the lenses does not indicate UV protection, which is an invisible chemical applied to lenses.


Since many skin cancers are prevalent on the head, choose to wear a hat. Choose a hat with a wide brim of at least three inches or wider, providing shade for the eyes, ears and neck. Some styles provide loose flaps or drapes to cover the ears and neck. Styles allowing air circulation can offer protection as well as comfort.

Sun-Safe Screens and Window Coverings

Transparent window film can be added to car windows and room windows, screening out 99 percent to 100 percent UVA and UVB rays. This film does not reduce visibility and comes in various color shades. The film will also reduce glare from windows.


Originally posted Feb 18, 2016.