Being outside is good for our health. It is important to protect your skin from the sun when you are outside.
It might be tempting to skip sun protection when you can’t see the sun through the clouds. But the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, while invisible, is still very powerful. UV radiation can still harm your skin on cloudy days, causing sunburn and skin damage that increases your risk of skin cancer.
It is important to seek shade often and use sun protection all year long.
Read on to learn why sunburns can happen on cloudy days, how to prevent sunburns, and what you need to prepare for when heading outdoors.
The sun’s UV radiation is a type of natural energy source we can’t see. But we can feel the sun’s UV energy. This is why unprotected skin feels hot or warm during daylight hours when the sun is out.
“The sun’s UV radiation is the most damaging during daylight saving time.”
The Earth tilts on an angle toward the sun during the summer, which can cause UV radiation to grow even more powerful.
“The sun’s UV radiation is strong all year round because the Earth is close to the sun. People living, working, or recreating at high altitudes experience strong sun exposure for similar reasons.”
“The sun’s UV radiation can be strengthened when it hits reflective surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow.”
It is important to ensure you have adequate sun protection when you are in places or situations where you will encounter sun-magnifying factors.
- At the beach.
- A person is walking down a sidewalk.
- shoveling or playing in snow
It’s true that clouds do block some UV light. But more than 90% of the sun’s UV radiation can still pass through clouds on lightly overcast days and cause sunburn.
Types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation
The sun is the most important source of UV light for us. Artificial sources of UV light can cause sunburns and are extremely dangerous.
The sun sends out three types of UV light. Each has different characteristics based on its energy level and carries different risks for our health.
Ultraviolet A (UVA)
The highest wavelength is UVA. It travels through the ozone layer into our skin, causing tans and sunburns.
UVA rays can cause genetic damage to the skin cells, which can lead to skin cancer.
The sun sends out UVA in constant amounts throughout the year, even though it is weaker than the other two types.
Ultraviolet B (UVB)
“The wavelength of UVB is medium. It can cause tans and sunburns, and enters the skin’s outermost layers.”
The ozone layer protects us from the sun. UVB is strongest in the morning to afternoon and from spring to fall in the tropics. UVB rays can damage your skin all year long.
Ultraviolet C (UVC)
The wavelength of UVC is shortest. The ozone layer does not pose a risk to human health.
“Certain people have a higher risk of sunburn even on overcast days. If you have any of the risk factors, you should take extra care to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.”
- Light skinned or eyes
- Have been sunburned before.
- Taking birth control pills can increase sun sensitivity.
- retinoids and benzoyl peroxide are known to increase sunburn risk.
A note on skin color
People with darker skin tones have higher levels of melanin in their skin than people with lighter skin tones. Melanin protects the skin from sun damage — but only to a point.
Everyone is at risk of sunburn even on overcast days.
Symptoms of a sunburn may present differently based on your skin color and the severity of the sunburn. A sunburn usually presents its most intense symptoms 24 to 36 hours after sun exposure. It typically heals within a few days to a week.
Mild to moderate sunburns have some of the most common symptoms.
- There was confusion, weakness, or faintness.
- “It’s cold.”
- Dry, itchy, or peeling skin.
- There is a high degree of fever.
- It is a pain.
People with lighter skin tones are more likely to experience redness and sunburn.
Severe sunburn, while less common, can have serious effects that need immediate medical attention.
Call 911 or local emergency services, or go to the nearest emergency room, if you have a sunburn and:
- symptoms of dehydration, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, and extreme thirst
- A rapid or weak pulse.
- irregular heartbeat
- shallow breathing or trouble breathing
- clammy skin.
- dilated pupils.
- chest It is a pain.
- There is confusion or anxiety.
- Lose consciousness.
Multiple types of sun protection is beneficial. There are not one type that does it all.
Try to take as many sun-protection steps as possible on sunny days.
- You can protect your skin with clothing by looking for the “ultraviolet protection factor” labels.
- Wear sunglasses. UV exposure increases the risk of eye diseases.
- Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen (which blocks both UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of at least 30 (and 50 for skin that burns more easily). Apply generously and reapply as directed on the label.
- “On days with a high UV index rating, spend time in the shade. You can find the day’s UV index on most weather channels.”
- A wide-brimmed hat or a cap with a brim that covers your face is appropriate.
- Try to go outside in the early morning and evening when the sun is at its lowest.
Sunburns cause permanent skin damage.
What kind of sunscreen should you apply on a cloudy day?
If you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 you will not get sunburn.
Note that naturally derived “reef-safe” sunscreens are also better for our bodies and nature, as they do not contain the toxic chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.
All of your skin should be covered with sunscreen. People who are active or spend time near water should use waterproof sunscreens.
How much sunscreen should you apply on a cloudy day?
Adults should apply 1 ounce of sunscreen per application to fully cover their body. That is not much more than a shot glass would hold.
“Rub the sunscreen on your skin. It takes about 15 minutes for sunscreen to be absorbed into your skin, so it’s best to apply before you head outdoors.”
You should apply your sunscreen every 2 hours.
Sun protection is needed on cloudy days as well as on sunny days.
“The sun’s UV radiation can cause damage, including sunburns, and increase the risk of skin cancer.”
It is important to protect your skin from the sun. On cloudy days and every day, get into a good sun protection routine.