sun and skin

The skin is the organ responsible for covering and protecting the human body. In this way, it is subject to external actions from the environment, such as the sun. The sun emits electromagnetic waves that, when in contact with the skin in an exaggerated way, can damage cells and cause burns. At moderate levels, the sun’s action on the skin causes tanning, a skin darkening reaction caused by increased melanocyte activity.

In addition to burns , exaggerated exposure to the sun can be a predisposing factor for skin cancer . In Brazil, solar incidence is high during most of the year, making it necessary to constantly use sunscreen. The map below shows the typical average daily solar incidence in the Brazilian states in MJ/m²-day according to data from the ATLAS Solarimetria do Brasil.

But sun exposure also has beneficial effects. One of them is the production of vitamin D. This compound is only manufactured under the action of electromagnetic waves from the sun on the skin. Vitamin D is a key component of healthy bones and the immune system. Therefore, exposure to the sun is a necessary practice, but it must be conducted with care.

Necessary items for sunbathing in a healthy way are hats, T-shirts made of light and light fabric, water and sunscreen. Pay attention to the choice of sunscreen according to your skin type, color and protection spectrum. The best sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

Below are some definitions about tanning and the sun’s rays.

Some definitions about sun & skin

– Tanning: skin tanning is characterized by a reaction of skin cells: melanocytes, which release melanin under the effect of UV rays. Depending on the type of skin, people have a fast reaction, a slow reaction or even no reaction at all.

– UV rays: The sun emits electromagnetic rays, which consist mainly of UVA and UVB radiation, as well as infrared (IR).

UVA rays act fast and the skin tans quickly. These would be responsible for aging and skin allergies , it also contributes to melanoma (the most lethal version of skin cancer).

UVB rays take longer to act and tanning appears later. These act by modifying the DNA (risk of skin cancer ) and can more slowly, after a few hours, cause sunburn (for type I after a few minutes and for type IV after a few hours, depending on the radiation index). UVB are potentially dangerous as they can cause melanomas ( skin cancer ).

Infrared: this type of ray causes the sensation of heat, the infrared reaches the hypodermis, which can decrease the production of collagen (an element that gives structure to the skin) and thus can promote skin aging.

skin types

The skin, like people, is different and has different susceptibilities to sun exposure. Depending on the melanin content, the skin can be lighter (Nordic type) or darker (black type).

There is a classification that allows assigning the risks of different skin types regarding sun exposure.

See the table below.

skin typesmain traitsTannedSkin natural protection time (after sun exposure)recommended SPF*
I (1)
“very Nordic/very white type”
–  very white skin 

–  Very light or red hair

– Any freckles

–  Light (blue) eyes 

–  Lack of tan (sunburns are very common when the skin is not protected)5 a 10 min.≥ 40
II (2) 

“nordic/white type”

–  white skin 

–  Light or brown hair

– Any freckles

–  light eyes

– (Very) light tan (sunburns are frequent, when the skin is not protected)10 a 20 min.≥ 25
III (3) 

“European type”

–  White to light brown skin 

–  brown hair

– brown eyes

– Normal to light tan (burns may occur if the skin is not properly protected)20 a 30 min.≥ 20
IV (4) 

“Mediterranean style”

–  Light brown skin 

–  Dark brown or black hair

– Brown or black eyes

– Strong and deep tan (rare sunburn)40 min.≥ 15
V (5)
“dark brunette type”
– Light brown to dark brown skin 

– Dark brown to black eyes

– Black hair

– Sun-insensitive skin Rarely reddened
– Tans easily
– 60 a 90 min.> 15
VI (6)
“black type”
– black skin 

– Black eyes and hair

– Skin insensitive to the sun, which tans easily
– Rare sunburn
– over 90 min.> 15

* Depending on the time of day, the season, the weather and the location, for example (at the beach with water and salt, the intensity of the rays increases by 30%), the SPF may vary.

Notes: It is important that people with dark brown skin (mulattos) and black people use sunscreen (with SPF 15, for example) mainly at the beach or in the mountains. It is also essential that people use sunscreen even on cloudy days. The heat is one of the main causes of sunburn and even darker skinned people get sunburned.

sun protection index

The sun protection factor (known as SPF) of the sunscreen must be chosen according to the skin type, the UV radiation index, the time of exposure to the sun and the time of day. For example, if the person is going to be exposed to the sun during the middle of the day, the SPF should be higher.

 The SPF value usually appears on the sunscreen product label and can range from 2 to over 50. Be aware that products other than sunscreen (such as lipsticks, creams, facial lotions, and even hair care products) contain a sun protection index. The higher the factor, the greater the protection (better absorption of UV rays).

Sunscreens with SPF 15 protect against around 93.3% of the sun’s rays, while products with SPF 30 protect against 96.7%. It is still not possible to achieve 100% protection against the sun’s rays, even with products with high SPF. It is also important to check the type of protection that the products offer. Many sunscreens do not provide sufficient coverage against UVA rays. The best components that protect against these rays are avobenzone, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

 Note: don’t forget the face. There are specific products for the face with SPF suitable for facial skin. If you have very fair skin, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your face before going out in the sun.

uv radiation index

The UV radiation index, also known as the ultraviolet index (IUV), measures the level of solar radiation at the Earth’s surface. The higher the index, the greater the damage to the skin and the higher the risk of developing skin cancer. The UV index is registered daily and published by the media in newspapers and so on.

See the table below to understand how the risk varies (from extreme to weak) depending on the value of the UVI.

Index 9 or higherIndexes 7 and 8Indexes 5 and 6Indexes 3 and 4Indicates 1 and 2
ExtremeVery strongHighModerateWeak

Choice of sunscreen

The choice of sunscreen is very important so that the skin is always healthy and protected in the summer.

ATTENTION: As important as the choice of sunscreen is how to use it. A study by the Brazilian Society of Dermatology showed that only 30% of cariocas protect their skin adequately against the sun in the summer. See our tips section and learn how to properly use sunscreen.

Here is a summary that can help you choose the sunscreen according to your skin type.

Subtitles : skin types (skin evaluation according to the risk of sun exposure), SPF (= sun protection factor), UVI (= ultraviolet index), >=40 implies using a sunscreen with an SPF greater than 40.

skin typesSPF to
UVI 1 to 2 (weak)
SPF to
UVI 3 to
4 (moderate)
SPF to
to 6 (high)
UVI SPF 7 to 8 (very strong)SPF to
UVI 9 or greater (extreme)

very nordic type

≥ 25≥ 40≥ 40≥ 40≥ 50

nordic/white type

≥ 25≥ 25≥ 25 a 40≥ 40≥ 40

european type

≥ 15≥ 15≥ 25≥ 25≥ 40

mediterranean type

≥ 15≥ 15≥ 15≥ 25≥ 25
type dark brunette

≥ 15
≥ 15≥ 15≥ 15≥ 15
type black
≥ 15≥ 15≥ 15≥ 15≥ 15

– The darker the skin, the greater the amount of melanin produced, which guarantees natural protection to the skin. However, even type VI skin should not use sunscreens with an SPF of less than 15.

– Light skin types I and II should prefer sun blockers.

– After a few days of exposure to the sun, with an increase in tan, the skin becomes more resistant to the sun’s rays. However, sunscreen should not be abandoned.

– Be mindful of sunscreen coverage against UVA and UVB rays. The best products protect against both types of solar radiation.

– Watch out for cloudy days. The heat can burn and, even on those days, the use of sunscreen is fundamental.

– In addition to the body, there are sunscreens for hair, face, hands, lips, etc. Look in pharmacies and drugstores for the protector that best suits your skin type and needs.

– A sunscreen capsule containing substances from the Polipodium Leucotomos plant, a fern-like plant, was recently launched on the market. In addition to this substance, the capsule contains beta-carotene and green tea extract. When ingested, the components of the capsule prevent the appearance of defective cells that appear after sun exposure, in addition to preventing the formation of free radicals and protecting DNA from damage from sunlight. It is important that a specialist, such as a dermatologist, prescribe this medicine to the patient.

Sun and skin risks

– Sunburn . They can be extremely serious as, in the long term, they can lead to the development of skin cancer.

 – Skin cancer , especially melanomas. The risk of developing skin cancer increases in cases where the skin is exposed for long periods to solar radiation and is not adequately protected. It is important to mention that the development of skin cancer is also related to genetic factors.

Artificial tanning chambers can also cause skin cancer , so much so that these chambers were banned by ANVISA in 2009. Experts warn that the artificial tanning procedure can be more harmful to skin health than direct exposure to the sun without protection.

A popular option as an alternative to sun exposure and tanning beds is jet tanning. The application of the spray lasts about 20 minutes and the tan stays on the skin for about 7 days. Another option is self-tanning cosmetics that, when in contact with the skin, promote oxidation of the dead skin layer, which results in a tan-like color.

ATTENTION : Regularly check your skin (use a mirror or go to a specialist), observe your moles and if there is a change in color, size or shape, consult a doctor, as this could be the beginning of a melanoma. The chances of healing are greater when this is diagnosed early! See how to diagnose skin cancer on our page: Skin Cancer Diagnosis .

sun and skin tips

Below are some tips to protect yourself and keep your skin always beautiful and healthy:

– Apply a sunscreen with an appropriate protection factor, depending on the weather conditions of each day. Repeat the application after a few hours, especially after swimming in the sea (even if you are using a waterproof protector).

– Give preference to products with broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.

– If possible, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the rays.

– Avoid sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm (from 9 am in the Northeast), especially in summer and at the beach. Try to stay in the shade.

– Protect your lips with a suitable lip balm: especially if you have cold sores (the sun is a triggering factor) and if you have skin type I or II.

– Wear a hat or cap when the sun is very strong. This tip is especially important for people who work in the sun, such as postmen, farm workers or street vendors.

– For beautiful skin color and to improve your sun protection (this is not a substitute for applying sunscreen), try drinking carrot juice 3 weeks before sun exposure. This vegetable is rich in carotenoids, which keep the skin tanned beautifully and for longer. Orange or yellow fruits and vegetables, such as oranges and acerola, are important sources of vitamins and carotenoids.

– To keep your tan longer, drink plenty of fluids and moisturize your skin constantly with lotions and moisturizers. Also, always maintain a healthy diet, rich in fruits, greens and vegetables.

– Some of the foods that improve the appearance of the skin and naturally intensify the tan are: papaya, orange, carrot, mango, melon, pumpkin and green leaves (such as parsley, cabbage, watercress, kale and spinach). These foods are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body and protects cells from damage caused by sunlight.

– Avoid cigarettes. Toxic substances present in cigarettes change the color of the skin and make the tissue yellowish. In addition, the skin tends to become thick and with the appearance of spider veins.

– Apply sunscreen on all parts of the body (that is, on all parts exposed to the sun, especially on the ears (a place that we often forget), and on the tip of the nose. These two places are quite exposed.

– Drink plenty of water and rehydrate constantly. Exposure to the sun, in addition to causing burns, causes the body to lose a lot of water, worsening the effects.

– Regularly check your skin (use a mirror or regularly consult a specialist so that he can check your skin). Observe your moles and in case of change in color, size and shape, consult a doctor, as this could indicate the beginning of a melanoma. The chances of healing are greater when this is diagnosed early!

– Avoid exposing children under one year old to the sun and always try to apply a cream with a high SPF in young children (> or = 40). Babies need extra attention due to their very sensitive skin.

– Some aesthetic procedures and treatments, such as laser hair removal, application of acid peeling and dermatological treatments with retinoic acid and derivatives should be avoided in the summer or if the person is going to be exposed to the sun a lot, since they leave the skin sensitive and more susceptible to burns and stain formation. Other procedures such as application of botulinum toxin, filling and physical peelings (such as crystal peeling) do not have contraindications.

– Choose the right fabric: dark clothes, although warmer, protect the skin more than light clothes. Dark clothing absorbs radiation, preventing it from reaching the skin. Clothes with sunscreen are available on the market. If you can’t afford them, prefer clothes made with polyamide. The important thing is that even when dressed, sunscreen should not be abandoned if you are going to expose yourself to the sun.

– Use specific sunscreens for the skin of the face. So you protect yourself from UV rays and avoid pimples or other skin nuisances.

– Don’t avoid the sun entirely. It is important for vitamin D production , immune system maintenance, bone and skin health, etc. Prefer to sunbathe outside peak hours, always hydrating and with adequate protection.

Jeanne Kenney
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I’m a stylist trainer, a content creator, and an entrepreneur passion. Virgo sign and Pisces ascendant, I move easily between my dreams, the crazy world I want, and my feet on the ground to carry out my projects.

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