Sunburn, skin cancers, and other sun-related adverse health effects are largely preventable when sun protection is practiced early and consistently. Despite the fact that suntanning and burning increase skin cancer risks, most people do not protect themselves from the sun's damaging rays (CDC, 1998).

Attitudinal barriers to the sun must be addressed and changed before behaviors will change. Attitudinal barriers to sun protection include the beliefs that is necessary to use sunscreens only while at the beach or pool rather than year round, "a suntanned body is a healthy body", and "you can only get a sunburn in the summer". To overcome these barriers, education must begin early so habits can be developed early and consistently.

Children are highly susceptible to harmful UV radiation, since 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure occurs before the age of 18. Just one or two blistering sunburns in childhood may double the risk of developing melanoma. Teaching children about sun safety is the key to reducing the risk of future health problems. Still, it is never too late to start sun protective habits.

The best sun protection is provided when all the sun-safe behaviors are practiced together. Sun protection habits include:
  • Limit sun exposure during the hours when the sun's rays are the strongest, 10am to 4pm. To the extent possible, people should limit their exposure to the sun during these hours and practice all the sun protective behaviors. Your shadow is an indicator of the sun's intensity. If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun is at its highest intensity. The American Academy of Dermatology has established the Shadow Rule: No Shadow--SEEK SHADE.
  • Refer to the daily UV index when planning outdoor events. The UV index is a daily forecast of the intensity of the sun's UV rays. The Index indicates the risk of overexposure to skin-damaging UV radiation and can be used to help plan outdoor activities to minimize overexposure.
  • Seek shade whenever possible. Shade structures such as trees and umbrellas provide year round protection. Although trees do not offer complete sun protection, they provide about 60 percent blockage from the sun's rays.
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and long sleeved, tightly woven clothing. Clothing can physically block out the sun's harmful rays and should be one of the first lines of defense against sun exposure. Sunglasses should block out 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation to protect the eyes from damage. Hats are the best way to minimize UV radiation exposure to the face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreens whose active ingredients block UVA and UVB rays. The Sun Protective Factor (SPF) should be a minimum of 15. Sunscreens should be used every day, including cloudy days. They should be applied liberally and evenly before going out into the sun and should be applied frequently, especially after swimming.
  • Avoid tanning salons. Artificial UV radiation is just as bad for your skin as sunlight. Most tanning devices use UVA rays which have been shown to go deeper into the skin and contribute to premature wrinkling and skin cancer (AAD, 1994).
  • Limit exposure to the reflective surfaces like snow and water. UV rays can be reflected off of sand, tile, water, snow, and buildings. It is important to practice all the sun protective behaviors.

Source: Permission to reprint granted by the National Safety Council, a membership organization dedicated to protecting life and promoting health.