How to Prevent Sunburn

Girl with bad sunburn on her back and shoulders.
Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Protective clothing that covers a lot of skin is one way to prevent sunburn. See more pictures of getting beautiful skin.
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Every summer, millions of Americans dig their swimsuits out of the back of their closets and flock to their favorite beaches. And whether their goals are to beef up their backstrokes, get lost in books or show off their beach-ready bodies, they all have to worry about ultraviolet rays from the sun. Too much sun today equals sensitive, red skin and lots of peeling tomorrow. But it also affects your skin's future health -- intense exposure to ultraviolet rays can increase your chances of getting premature wrinkles, liver spots and even skin cancer, including melanoma [source: Mayo Clinic].

But there's no need to spend the summer months hiding in a cold, dark basement. Plenty of products and techniques can help you enjoy the outdoors while staying safe from harmful sunburns. A popular first line of defense is a big bottle of sunscreen, but that isn't foolproof: Sunscreens must be frequently reapplied when we perspire, and even waterproof brands wear off after a few hours [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].


In addition to the many sunscreen lotions and sprays that drug stores carry, there are now some alternative ways of protecting yourself from the damaging effects of the sun. Certain brands of clothing also claim to help protect the skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, and specific foods have emerged as aids in sunburn prevention.

This article will delve into these alternative methods of sunburn prevention. Keep reading to unearth a wealth of tips and tricks to block unhealthy burns while you soak up summer fun.



Clothes That Prevent Sunburn

Like sunscreen, sun-protective clothing is a product used to prevent sunburn. Unlike normal summer clothing -- which typically includes light-colored fabrics and loosely fitting cotton -- the fabrics used for blocking sun are tightly woven, which makes them more difficult for harmful rays to penetrate. Certain companies treat the fabric with chemicals that help absorb ultraviolet (UV) light. Sun-protective clothing is generally marked with a UV protection factor (UPF), which lets you know the strength of its protection. For example, if you wanted to protect yourself from 1/40th of the sun's rays, you'd pick a shirt with a UPF rating of 40. Higher UPF labels mean more protection for your skin [source: Federal Trade Commission, Gibson].

Although sun-protective clothing is a useful tool in the fight against sunburn, it can lose some of its effectiveness if it gets stretched or is repeatedly washed -- another reason to go with a higher UPF in the first place. Another option is to make your own sun blocking clothes. Certain laundry ingredients contain UV-absorbing chemicals and claim to give even regular fabrics a significant UPF rating [source: Gibson]. A product called SunGuard falls into this category.


Clothing specifically designed for sunburn prevention can be a bit expensive, but there are plenty of options already in your closet that also can be effective. Whenever going out in direct sunlight, you can wear something loose fitting that covers as much skin as possible. Also, wide-brimmed hats will help block sunlight from your head and neck area [source: Family Doctor].

Read on to discover the different types of food that help prevent sunburn.


Foods That Prevent Sunburn

New research suggests that certain types of foods and antioxidants may successfully help the body to fight against sunburn. Beta-carotene -- an antioxidant found in leafy vegetables, carrots, red peppers and yellow fruits such as mangos, melons and apricots -- has proven effective. Studies show that beta-carotene works best when a person eats at least five servings of foods that contain the antioxidant per day for a period of at least 10 weeks. Although the effects of beta-carotene aren't strong enough for it to be a complete replacement for sunscreen, this nutrient can help provide constant protection to every area of the skin [source: European Food Information Council].

Researchers have found that tomatoes -- or at least lycopene, a red pigment found in tomatoes -- may also protect the skin from sunburn. Like beta-carotene, the effects of lycopene become more effective after getting a daily requirement for around three months [source: University of Michigan].


Green tea, often touted for its various health benefits, consists of polyphenols -- a type of antioxidant -- which could also protect the skin from UV rays. To reap these benefits, the polyphenols can be consumed as a drink, or they can be applied directly to skin [source: UC San Diego].

Although the effects of these foods are not strong enough to replace sunscreens, the combination of these nutrients with your daily sunscreen regimen will help give you the best possible coverage. And eating all those vitamins and antioxidants could benefit your health in other ways, too.

Wearing the right clothes and eating the right foods is a start, but read on for additional tips on how to protect yourself from the sun.


Tips to Prevent Sunburn

The best way to avoid sunburn is fairly obvious: Stay out of the sun. Specifically, avoid direct sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV light is most intense. If you must be outdoors, find shade. If you're heading to the beach, bring a sun umbrella to cast some shade when you're relaxing in the sand [source: Centers for Disease Control].

Most people don't think to protect their lips from sunburn as well. When spending extended periods of time in direct sunlight, be sure to use a lip balm or cream of at least SPF 30 strength [source: WebMD].


Although you may already use sunscreen, there are special techniques to picking and applying the right type for your activity level. Certain sunscreens are advertised as broad spectrum, which means they protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays, so use these brands for the best coverage. For maximum effect, wear sunscreen for at least 30 minutes before going into the sun. Finally, you should reapply it every couple of hours, because the SPF values decrease when you sweat or otherwise get wet. Even waterproof sunscreens rub off once you dry yourself with a towel [source: WebMD].

Sun has always come along with sand and surf, but with myriad options for protecting your skin, you can enjoy the beach worry free. If you apply sunscreen regularly, wear sun-protective clothing and eat the foods that scientists say beef up your body's own innate protection, then sunburns, and their accompanying skin damage, will be a lot less likely. Read on to learn even more about different types of sunburn prevention.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hazards to Outdoor Workers: UV Radiation." 10/22/08. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • European Food Information Council. "Beta-Carotene Supplements May Help Prevent Sunburns." (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Family Doctor. "Skin Cancer: Reduce Your Risks with 'Safe Sun' Guidelines." (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Federal Trade Commission. "Sunscreens and Sun-Protective Clothing." 4/24/09. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Gibson, Lawrence. "Are Tanning Beds Safer Than Natural Sunlight?" 10/8/08. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Gibson, Lawrence. "Sun Protective Clothing: Worth the Expense?" 5/30/09. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Sunburn: Definition." 5/19/09. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • UC San Diego. "Complementary Medicine: Sunburn." 1/21/09. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • University of Michigan. "Healthwise Knowledgebase: Sunburn." 9/1/07. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • WebMD. "Melanoma: Topic Overview." 1/11/07. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • WebMD. "Protecting Yourself from the Sun --Topic Overview." 7/10/07. (Accessed 8/10/09)