Sun Protection and Sunscreens

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Find out how to choose the best sunscreen.

Making Sense of Sunscreen Products

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF numbers on a product can range from as low as 2 to as high as 60. These numbers refer to the product's ability to screen or block out the sun's burning rays.

Picture of a sunburn

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Sun-Damaged Skin Pictures Slideshow

What is sun protection?

Sun protection is simply guarding a body from the adverse effects of sunlight. Aside from the hazards of heat, the sun poses the danger of sunburn, which can permanently damage the skin and cause skin cancer, precancerous changes in the skin, as well as premature wrinkling and signs of aging. Exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun is a known risk factor for the development of both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. A survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in 2015 showed that despite public health warnings, only around one-third of Americans use sunscreen on a regular basis. Women were more likely than men to use sunscreen on the face, and sunscreen use was also more common in higher socioeconomic groups.

How is sunburn best prevented?

The best ways to avoid sunburn are to do the following:

  • Limit time in the sun, especially between the peak sunlight hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing, including
    • a broad-brimmed hat,
    • a shirt with sleeves that cover the arms,
    • a long skirt or pants with long legs.
  • Use a protective sunscreen to minimize the penetration of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen if swimming or perspiring heavily.

What is sunscreen?

Sunscreen is any substance or material that protects the skin from UV radiation. Sunscreens are available in the forms of topical lotion, cream, ointment, gel, or spray that can be applied to the skin; a salve or stick that can be applied to the lips, nose, and eyelids; a moistener in towelettes that can be rubbed against the skin; sunglasses that protect the eyes; certain types of sun-protection clothing; and film screen that can be affixed to the windows of a car, room, or office. Many facial moisturizers and cosmetics products also offer some degree of sun protection.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/12/2015
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  • Sunscreen - Tips for Reapplying

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  • Sunscreen - Sunburn Prevention

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  • Sunscreen - Best Types

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  • Sunscreen - Sunburns in Winter

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