Summer is here! Across the country, people are venturing poolside, beachside, and parkside for fun in the sun. This is excellent for people because sunlight is our primary source of vitamin D, an essential nutrient that helps humans absorb calcium. But even though sunlight is so important, exposure in moderation is key. That’s why every July, Americans observe Ultraviolet Safety Month.

Ultraviolet Safety Month was established as a time to shine a light on how ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can negatively impact us; it is also a time to learn about sun safety and how to enjoy time in the sun responsibly. As sun safety advocate Hillary Fogelson says, “Sun protection doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive — it needs to be consistent….”


UV rays are short light waves produced by the sun that are invisible to the human eye. The most common wavelengths are UVA and UVB rays. Sunlight gives off the most common form of UV radiation via these rays, which can cause damage to the skin and the eyes—from sunburn to cataracts to cancer. This is why people should pay close attention to the amount of time spent in the sun and make efforts to mitigate possible damage from sun exposure.

UVA radiation makes up 95% of the UV rays that reach the Earth’s surface. These rays penetrate and damage skin, resulting in a tan—many people like how tanned skin looks and don’t realize that it is actually the result of skin injury. UVA rays cause most forms of skin aging, including wrinkles.

UVB radiation, on the other hand, makes up only 5% of the UV rays from the sun. These rays don’t penetrate as deeply as UVA rays but can damage skin cells on the top layers of the skin so much that they can eventually cause melanoma and other types of skin cancer to develop. UVB rays also can cause significant eye damage resulting in vision problems (e.g., cataracts).

The strength of the UV rays that pass through the atmosphere and reach humans depends on a variety of factors. These factors include such things as time of day and season of the year, as UV rays are usually at peak strength between 10 am and 4 pm, during the spring and summer seasons. Other factors include the distance from the equator because UV exposure is decreased in locations farther from the equator; altitude because more UV rays reach people at higher elevations; and the presence of reflective surfaces because UV rays tend to bounce off such surfaces (e.g., water, sand, snow, etc.) and increase the intensity of exposure. Also note that overexposure can occur on cloudy or overcast days, too, and can be just as damaging, so sun protection is critical no matter what the weather forecast is.


Everyone needs sun protection, so it is key to have an awareness of how to protect ourselves from UV rays. The best way to protect yourself against the damaging effects of the sun is to limit exposure and protect your skin from those rays as much as possible. Doctors and other medical experts emphasize the importance of protecting our skin from sunlight, warning us about the dangers of overexposure, especially during the summer. Luckily, there are many ways to help protect ourselves from overexposure and to prevent UV damage.

The most basic way to help prevent UV damage is to stay out of the sun. This doesn’t mean that you can’t go outside at all; it simply means to stay in the shade as much as possible when you do. Avoiding and/or limiting sun exposure, especially during the hours when the sun’s UV rays are most intense, is the easiest step you can take.

Generously applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen is also extremely important when you go outside. Most experts recommend using a water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher is the best choice for shielding your skin from damaging rays and staving off sunburns. They also note it is important to reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming and/or sweating to make sure your skin is protected the entire time you are outside. (Note: a broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays. According to the American Association of Dermatology, this label comes from standards created by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for testing sunscreen and is useful for helping to choose a sunscreen that offers the protection you want and expect.)

Wearing protective clothing like long sleeve shirts and pants can help, too. Clothing with integrated SPF protection is a great option, as are items made of lightweight fabrics such as linen and thin cotton (which can be the most comfortable options when it’s hot). Also consider wearing broad-brimmed hats to shade your face, ears, and neck. And sunglasses are the most essential fashion accessory you can have when you’re in the sun. The best, most effective sunglasses should be rated to block 100% of UVA and UVB rays to protect the eyes as fully as possible. They should be worn regardless of whether you are in full sun or shade.


Sun protection is one of the top health and safety tips for the summer. While some exposure to sunlight is important for your health, too much exposure can be dangerous. Overexposure to UV rays from the sun can result in serious health problems. Because of this, it is vitally important for all people to take sun safety seriously and take steps to protect themselves and their friends and family from overexposure. It is enormously important to focus on sun safety during National UV Safety Month, and all year long. Sun safety is always in season.

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Written by: Erika Mehlhaff