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Health & Counseling Center

sun safety

Health Promotion

Stay Safe in the Sun

We all need some sun to help our bodies make vitamin D. However, too much unprotected exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause skin damage and eye damage, suppress your immune system, and could lead to skin cancer.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. Fortunately, there are ways that you can protect yourself from the sun's rays and decrease your risk of sun damage and skin cancer.

Everybody is at risk for skin damage – regardless of age and skin color. While it is true that people with darker skin tones have natural skin protection, it is only estimated to be up to 15 SPF (Brenner & Hearing, 2008). It is still important for people with dark skin tones to protect their skin.

What is UV Radiation?

UV radiation is a type of energy produced by the sun. The sun's ultraviolet radiation is the main cause of skin damage and skin cancer-– also causing sunburn, tanning, premature aging, and eye damage.

The most common forms of UV radiation are UVA and UVB rays from the sun. UVA makes up approximately 95% of the sunlight that reaches the earth's surface, and UVB makes up about 5%.

Benefits of Being in the Sun

Some UV radiation is good for you. UVB helps your body make vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium, keep your muscles moving, regulate your mood, and stay healthy. It is recommended that people get 20 minutes of sun exposure 3 times a week. sun

If you don't get enough sun exposure, you can eat foods that have more vitamin D, such as fatty fish, fish oils, mushrooms, and eggs. There are also some foods that have vitamin D added to them, like milk, soy beverages, some breakfast cereals, and fruit juices. Vitamin D supplements are also available over the counter.

Consequences of Too Much Sun & Sun Damage


Even though some sun is good for you, when your skin is exposed to UV your body tries to protect itself by increasing the amount of melanin (skin pigment) near the skin's surface, also known as tanning. This darkens the skin and provides some sun protection; however, it is usually not enough to prevent the skin from burning.

UV radiation When you get a sunburn, it is not just the surface of the skin that is getting damaged. UVB rays can cause surface tanning and sunburns. UVA rays can penetrate deep into your skin and cause DNA and cellular changes that could lead to skin cancer.

Just one to two severe sunburns in a lifetime can double the risk of skin cancer. Over 3 sunburns can increase your risk by six times! According to a 2017 DU sun exposure survey, 80% of students have had at least 1 or more red or painful sunburns within the last 12 months.

Premature Aging

Premature aging caused by sun damage is called photoaging. Photoaging can speed up the natural aging process and cause leathery skin, deep wrinkles, discoloration, hyperpigmentation, spider veins on the face, and age/liver spots.


Photoaging occurs when the sun's rays break down the collagen in your skin at a faster-than-natural rate. Collagen is the structural protein that is found in the skin that makes it elastic and youthful looking.

Fun in the Mountains

Colorado is known for its beautiful mountains and snowy, winter fun.UV exposure increases with altitude Did you know that as your elevation increases, the amount of UV rays in the atmosphere increases? Because Denver is a mile higher than sea level, we are exposed to approximately 26% more UV radiation than at sea level.

When it is cold out, snow acts as a reflective surface and can bounce 80% of the UV light from the sun back onto you. You could get hit by the same rays twice-– doubling the amount of sun damage your skin may be exposed to. This is why it may look brighter outside when there is snow on the ground.

Whether you're going to the mountains for a hike or sledding, appropriate clothing, eyewear, and sunscreen are important to protect you from higher levels of UV.

Indoor Tanning is NOT Safe

The World Health Organization has declared UV radiation from artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, to be a known cancer-causing substance. Just one indoor tanning session can increase users' risk of melanoma by 20 percent. According to a 2014 study by Wehner and colleagues, more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States could be related to indoor tanning each year.

Have you ever heard of somebody using a tanning bed to get a "base tan?" It's a common misconception that tanning before a beach vacation will prevent a sunburn. In reality, a base tan only offers between 3-4 SPF and you're more likely to get sunburned in a tanning bed.

It is also commonly advertised that tanning beds are a safe way to get vitamin D – this is NOT true. Tanning beds mostly provide UVA rays. UVA rays do not stimulate vitamin D production, but do penetrate deep into the skin, which can cause DNA and cellular changes. The safest way to get vitamin D is through what you eat.

How can you protect your skin from the sun's rays?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the best ways to prevent sunburn and protect your skin are: sunscreen

  1. Use Broad Spectrum Water-Resistant Sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on all exposed skin. Broad spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Reapplying every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating is also recommended.
  2. Wear protective clothing to limit your skin's exposure to the sun, such as long sleeved shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and clothing with UV protection.
  3. Stay in the shade when you can. The sun is usually the strongest between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm.
  4. Water, snow, and sand can all reflect the sun's rays and intensify them. Wearing sunscreen in the snowy season can help you protect your skin year round.
  5. Protect your lips using lip balm with at least SPF 15.
  6. Protect your face with a daily moisturizer that has at least SPF 15. Some face products may also have SPF to protect your skin.
Campus Resources

If you'd like to talk to a medical provider about skin concerns or for a skin check, you can schedule an appointment via MyHealth or call the Health and Counseling Center at 303-871-2205.

Having an event or tabling outside? Protect yourself from the sun by reserving our sun canopies that block out 100% of UVA and UVB rays. The canopies are easy to set up and are available to reserve through 25Live.