Your Sun Safety Questions Answered


By Jemma Howlett

When summer hits, everyone knows that they should wear sunscreen and hats and stay in the shade as much as possible. But let’s face it — there are still a lot of misconceptions and questions about the specifics of sun protection, and not all of us do what we’re supposed to. Thanks to some strong Italian genes, I usually don’t get burned, so it’s hard for me to remember to lather up. But tanning can be just as harmful to long-term skin health as burning! And if you’re anything like me, you’ve got some questions about how to protect your skin from those summer rays. Take a look at the tips below to make sure you have a burn-free holiday weekend.

Can I get burned through glass?

I’ve often wondered, sitting in the car or looking out the window on a sunny day, whether the sun piercing through the glass could be giving me some unsolicited color. The short answer: no. You cannot get sunburned through glass, but this doesn’t let you off the hook with sunscreen. There are two types of harmful rays from the sun: UVA and UVB. Windows in cars and buildings do block UVB rays, which are the rays responsible for sunburn. But they do not block UVA rays, which can still cause damage to collagen fibers, leading to wrinkles and an increased risk of cancer. So I’d recommend applying the broad-spectrum sunblock liberally on your next road trip.

Can I get sunburnt on a cloudy day?

Yes. Although the clouds block out some sunlight, they can’t shield you from all the harmful UV rays. Some studies even suggest that clouds can enhance UV radiation, depending on the type of clouds present. Suffice to say I’ll be keeping my sunscreen and baseball cap handy when I’m outside, no matter the weather.

If I don’t burn do I still need to wear sunscreen?

Yes! Everyone should wear sunscreen! As I mentioned, I can be pretty lazy about wearing sunscreen, but it is just as important for me as it is for someone who burns every time they step outdoors. Any direct sun exposure increases one’s risk for sun damage that can lead to cancer — whether or not the damage shows, and regardless of skin color. Melanin is a natural SPF and can range from 13.4 in darker skin to 3.4 in lighter skin. But even 13.4 SPF is not enough to protect against UV rays that can cause long-term harm.

Can I get sunburnt after 2 p.m.?

Yes. While it’s true that the sun is hottest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the sun is still emitting UVA and UVB rays all day. The further away from noon it is, the less likely you are to be sunburnt, but you’re still susceptible to sunburn and sun damage from sunrise to sunset. Bottom line: next time I head out for a run, whether it’s 6 a.m. or 6p.m., I should still be lathering on that sun repellent, and you should do the same.

Should I buy the highest SPF possible?

Not really. I always thought that SPF 100 was twice as good as SPF 50 and lasted twice as long. As it turns out, this is not the case at all. After SPF 50 there is very little difference in sun protectants. You might think that SPF 30 is twice as good as SPF 15, but actually, SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent, and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. After that, SPF grades are all very similar. And all sunscreens have to be reapplied after a few hours no mater how high the SPF. Better not to waste your money on the more expensive SPF numbers.

Jemma HowlettJemma Howlett is a writer, runner, traveller, college student and carb-enthusiast. Check out her coffee blog: and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @jemmahow.