With summertime fast approaching we will all be getting to spend more time outdoors. Living in Washington makes one even more thankful for sunshine. Often times on sunny days parks will be littered with runners, bicyclists, boaters, swimmers even sunbathers. Outdoor activities like golf, tennis and frisbee also tend to go hand in hand with nice sunny weather. However, one of the drawbacks of being out in the sun all day is exposure to UVA and UVB rays that can lead one to getting burned or worse skin cancer8.

What options do we have to enjoy the sun but still stay protected from it?

Clothing offers some advantages as it provides a modicum of safety from the sun. More recently there are even clothing companies that have made clothes with sunscreen protection in them called a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor)4. This may be a healthy option as just a barrier of protection is being used and nothing is being directly applied to the skin. How effective is this over a longer time depends on the type of clothing one wears a higher UPF rating (like sunscreen) offers a better amount of sun protection4.

Splatting sunscreen on your skin for protection may be more harmful than helpful for some. In fact one has to ask how safe is sunscreen for humans?
Sunscreen started becoming mainstream around the 1970s and at that time the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) allowed many ingredients into these bottles, however more recently, according to the FDA they only have enough safety information about two ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide5,6,7.
Zinc oxide is insoluble in water and therefore also largely insoluble in biological fluids, this makes sure that the skin absorption is minimal with most penetration occuring only into skin folds and furrows or hair follicles and studies show that the zinc oxide particles do not penetrate down into the viable dermis to any significant extent5. Titanium dioxide is also mostly insoluble in water and in biological fluids and prevents skin absorption5.

Another potential drawback to sunscreen is the lack of vitamin D synthesis in the body from sunlight1,2,3. If one is using efficient and more effective sunscreen this prevents Vitamin D synthesis from occurring raising the question how can one safely get Vitamin D from the sun or can they1,2,3 ?

Potential options to consider next time you are heading into the sun is to get FDA approved sunscreens, protective clothing, limiting exposure enough to get some Vitamin D, but not so much that one gets burned8.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25207381 Opens in new window
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21410663 Opens in new window © 2011 The Authors. BJD © 2011 British Association of Dermatologists 2011. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2005 Nov-Dec;18(6):253-62. Epub 2005 Aug 19.
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25207381 Opens in new window Vitamin D
  4. https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/sun-protective-clothing/ Opens in new window
  5. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/26/2019-03019/sunscreen-drug-products-for-over-the-counter-human-use Opens in new window
  6. https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/ Opens in new window
  7. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/fda-voices-perspectives-fda-leadership-and-experts/shedding-new-light-sunscreen-absorption Opens in new window
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26547141 Opens in new window